Monday 23 March 2015

A fraught Friday

The fun side of the room before the egg based horror
My fault. Mich booked quite late in the week - a surprise for Mahan, his wife. I was manic with a draft one deadline and didn't really have time to properly prep some new dishes. 

And then I did four of them, four new dishes in a row, for nine people.


The birthday girl
Luckily, Mich and Mahan are friends, and their guests were also our friends - one of them was Belinda (who married me some time ago), who informs me that my mood was not communicated from kitchen to dining area. Also, more importantly, the food was well received. The plates all came back clean. That's the only praise I believe anyway.

It wasn't that I hadn't made the dishes before, it was that I hadn't done them in that sequence. This might sound like a minor objection but success in the kitchen is all about flow. Timings and sequencing need to be known and practised. The elements of one dish all need to come together while the elements of the next are cooking. Obviously you prep as much as you can -  blanching veg, pureeing, reducing stocks and spirits, blind baking tart cases. Things that aren't especially onerous but take time. Mind, you have to be careful not to over-prep. Salads must be dressed just before service - few like a limp leaf.

But flow is also about sequencing. Is it even possible? If I have three dishes that need oven roasting at very different temps but need to appear at the same time, I am forced to rethink. Similarly too many things on the hob can be problematic. You don't want deep red port reduction splashing in your glossy white cauliflower puree or have to lean over fat popping lardons to stir a sauce (I have the scars to show).

If there is an issue, how do I rescue the dish? Which elements can be happily reheated or roasted and which need a restart (sob)? Some things can sit happily, blipping away, others - like fish or steaks - need constant vigilance. It's why I don't do either in any number if I can help it. It means I can't do anything else for the duration.

Another factor is contingency. Do you risk making exactly the amount needed? It's why a baker's dozen is 13. I usually make an additional soufflé - invariably there's a waiter to eat it. Similarly with any just risen pudding or something fragile (sugar work, tuiles) or liable to stick to its (bloody, bloody) tin: baked fondants, steamed puddings, large single ravioli, etc. With poached eggs you definitely want spares.

The new dishes were:
an amuse bouche of pea soup with a bacon cream;
starters of mushrooms on toast with sous vide poached eggs;
mains of caponata with sous vide halibut;
dessert of lemon curd profiteroles with a spiced cherry sauce.

I'll eventually recipe them all up and post links.

That is a glorious colour. All it takes is to blanch the peas before you blend them.
Pea soup with crushed peas and a bacon cream.
Did you spot my first mistake? Two sous vide elements and only one sous vide machine. Fish cooks at 45 degrees but I do my eggs at 75. The fish takes 40 mins, which would overlap with the eggs. That problem wasn't difficult to solve. The joy of sous vide is that the temps are so low, food doesn't tend to overcook once removed. I took the fish out just before the eggs were needed and 'refreshed' them in the 75 degree water. As they are vacuum sealed in thick plastic, they cool down slowly anyway. And you can always, like a pot roast, stick them inside a insulating blanket.

See, this definitely needs some work before I can call it a purée
Mushrooms are easy enough, thick cut, dry fried in a heavy skillet - although they can't hang around as they quickly go flaccid and ooze. I served mine with a splash of sherry, although I now think a white port would be better, butter, touch of garlic and some truffle paste.

No it wasn't the fish that floundered me, it was the eggs. Ten soft eggs was always going to be a challenge but I'd practised the technique in the week. Boil a room temp egg for ten minutes at 75°C. Place the eggs back in the box, blunt end up, crack the top of the egg and peel off some of the shell. Then invert the egg over the dish and the thing just slides out in one wonderful, slick movement. Of course, I didn't praises doing ten in a row.

One I'd prepared earlier. This is a perfect ten minute egg... that I had for breakfast.
Popped them in the water, started prepping the mushrooms... realised that I hadn't put on the timer. Now, timings with eggs - as I'm sure you know - is critical and I didn't know if I'd forgotten the timer four minutes ago or two, or six. The only solution was to take them out with a guess and hope for the best. Well, my guess wasn't good enough. Too early! The whites where still liquid. The only solution was new eggs, ten of them. This was when I realised too late that my plating was wrong too. If you plop a soft egg on slippery mushrooms, they plop off, and sometimes split. Next time, I'll make a 'well' for them to sit in.

The finished dish

Mains was ok but the halibut needed VERY careful handling. 

And then profiteroles. Ah the tales we will tell our grandchildren. "Grandpa, were you there when Jason mixed stiff cream with a firm (and delicious) home-made lemon curd that inexplicably resulted in a bowlful of (delicious, I say again) sloppy stuff?" Yeah, I was there. I had to pipe the stuff vertically so it didn't pour out of the bag while Etien had to snatch and build, snatch and build. It was rough.

Building blocks. No trauma here.

Lemon curd profiteroles with cherries before and after saucing
The phrase you're probably dragging up now is: in the grand scheme of things... And yeah, globally, it's no biggie. melting icecaps, ISIS incursions, Syrian bombing, a Russian megalomaniac - these are all possibly worse than a slightly underdone egg on a plate of English mushrooms. But, oh, you weren't there man, you weren't there.

And my friends call me a perfectionist. Tsk.

Saturday went swimmingly, of course. Not a single issue. Different menu, well rehearsed with an additional cheese course too.  Here's Joe and Christine. His 60th. 

If you're wondering, this is the message Mahan left on the website:

"Thanks so much for another brilliant night. Food was outstanding - always exceeds expectations."

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