My adventures recreating Alinea Restaurant’s food at home

SALSIFY, Smoked Salmon, Dill, Caper (Part 1)

SALSIFY, Smoked Salmon, Dill, Caper (Part 1) – Alinea Restaurant cookbook recipe, pages 264-269.

Alinea recipe for Salsify, Smoked Salmon, Dill, Caper

Bagels and lox — that’s what this is!

Alinea Restaurant’s version of lox keeps the flavors of salmon, capers, lemon, dill and toasty bagels, but mixes them up in an entirely new presentation with salsify. The flavor combinations are classic, and a treat to eat. This was a three-day recipe for me…

mise en place for alinea salsify recipe

Day One

This recipe has eight dried components: dehydrated Picholine olives, lemon zest, bell pepper, capers, ginger, red onion, dried salmon “powder” and a thin sheet of dehydrated garlic that you break up into chips. I decided to tackle them all first — to get ’em all in the dehydrator together.

Dried Picholine Olives
The last time I was in Los Angeles, I stopped by the Cheese Store of Silverlake, where I came upon some really good Picholine olives — among many other gourmet delights. Many other things, I should say, that I convinced myself into thinking that I actually needed. Foodie rationale taking over… Anyway, it’s one of my favorite haunts in the City of Angels.

I pitted the Picholine olives, then set them on a tray in my American Harvest dehydrator at 125ºF. It took them overnight to dry out. I pulsed them up just a bit in my spice grinder, then reserved the chunky powder in a plastic container.

Picholine olives, from the Cheese Store of Silverlake

Picholine Olives

Dried Capers
I rinsed and drained some bottled capers, then set them on a tray next to the olives in the dehydrator at 125ºF. Again, just like with the olives, it took them overnight to dry out. I pulsed them up just a bit in my spice grinder, then reserved the chunky powder in a plastic container.


Dehydrating picholine olives and capers

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Dried Red Bell Pepper
I trimmed. cored and seeded some red bell peppers, then flattened them out. With the pepper interior-side up, I trimmed off any ribs or nibbly parts, so I had flat ‘sheets,’ then sliced off the skins very carefully. The trick is to remove just the skin, and leave an eight-inch-thick thickness of the pepper. Now I had flat, skinned sheets of red bell pepper, ready to cut into strips! I sliced the sheets up into strips and dehydrated at 125ºF for about six hours. (It may take yours more or less.) The recipe says to season the strips lightly with salt before you dehydrate. I did not, but I leave that up to you… Then reserved the crispy pepper sticks in an airtight plastic container.

Bell pepper strips

Fresh red bell pepper
Morton’s kosher salt, to taste

Dried Lemon Zest
I trimmed strips of zest from some lemons, trying to get pieces as long as I could. Removed any remaining white pith, then cut lengthwise into strips 1/16″ wide.

Trim and cut lemon zests

Meanwhile I combined the sugar and water in a small saucepan and brought them to a boil. I added the zests and stirred, simmering them for an hour, until they were tender. Then let cool to room temp in the liquid. Technically, this can be called a lemon confit. Strained. Incidently, DON’T THROW OUT THE LEMON LIQUID! Re-use it! It’s great as a lemon syrup for teas, Italian sodas, cocktails, cooking, or even as a base for lemonade!

Boil and strain lemon zests

Dehydrated at 125ºF for about four hours (until they were crispy). Then reserved in an airtight plastic container.

Fresh Meyer lemons
C&H cane sugar

Dried Red Onion
I peeled and halved a red onion vertically from top to bottom, then cut batons from the halves, and dehydrated the onions at 125ºF with the lemon.

Red onion

Cut and dehydrate red onion

Garlic Chips
If I know I’m going to need a lot, I’ll sometimes buy a tub of peeled garlic cloves from my local Asian market. It saves a lot of time and is quite handy. So all I needed to do was trim the ends off the cloves!

Mise en place by Adrian Monk.

Mise by Monk garlic chips

I boiled the garlic in a pot of salted water until they were tender. Then puréed in my Oster bar blender until smooth.

Boiling the garlic

I strained the garlic into the dehydrator tray and dried it out overnight at 125ºF with the other components.

Pureed, strained garlic in the dehydrator

Garlic cloves
Morton’s kosher salt, to taste

Dried Ginger
I peeled a hand of ginger, then sliced it into very thin pieces on a mandolin.

Slicing and boiling ginger

I combined the ginger with some water and sugar in a medium saucepan and brought them to a boil. I simmered the ginger for about twenty minutes, drained and dehydrated it at 125ºF overnight until crisp.

Fresh ginger root
C&H cane sugar

Toasted Bread Crumbs
I cut up some bread, then drizzled the cubes with olive oil and added salt and pepper. Coated evenly, then baked on a cookie sheet until browned.

Making croutons

Removed the croutons, then pulsed into breadcrumbs in the spice grinder. Reserved in a covered plastic container.

Finished bread crumbs

Wonder bread slices, crusts removed
STAR Brand extra virgin olive oil
Morton’s kosher salt
Black pepper

To Be Continued…

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Alineaphile – Seen in the Globe and Mail

Alineaphile was featured today in Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail. Read it!

Think you can cook? Try making cheese curd ‘balloons’ for dinner
By Wency Leung
The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, 10 Jul 2012

Until recently, Joey Scott rarely cooked anything more complicated than instant ramen noodles (if you can consider that cooking).

But for the past three months, armed with a copy of the Alinea cookbook, an exquisite publication that’s as much about artistry as it is about culinary technique, the Chicago law student and gastronomic greenhorn has been tackling avant-garde dishes that would scare off experienced cooks.

In his tiny home kitchen, he has juiced bundles of fresh spinach, arugula and romaine, creating a frozen salad, topped with a slush of red wine vinaigrette that fit in the palm of his hand. He’s steeped a crushed cigar in cream, then mixed it with gelatin to produce delicate, tobacco-flavoured bites, finished with fresh blackberries, long peppercorns, and a sprinkling of smoked Maldon salt. He’s also made “caramel popcorn, liquified,” by simmering freshly popped popcorn with water, butter, sugar and salt, then straining the broth to serve with a caramel froth.

“It’s a hobby,” says Mr. Scott, who’s documenting his creations on his blog Alinea Newb. “It’s a good distraction, especially during the semester when I just want to find something to do besides study.

It’s like, ‘Oh, let’s see what I can do in the book right now.’”

Say hello to the hard-core culinary hobbyist. The number of labour-intensive, fine-dining cookbooks has proliferated in recent years, giving rise to a small but dedicated following of ultra-ambitious home cooks around the globe, who devour nitty-gritty technical details and relish the challenge of recreating Michelin-star meals. Using cookbooks from top restaurants, such as, Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine, Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook and Mugaritz: A Natural Science of Cooking, they’re creating dishes that take countless hours – and sometimes even days – of preparation, obscure ingredients and expensive equipment. Their complex creations make Julie Powell’s challenge, of Julie & Julia fame, look like child’s play.

Like Mr. Scott, many of these hard-core hobbyists are entirely self-taught. Mr. Scott caught the cooking bug after a “mind-blowing” meal at Chicago’s Alinea last fall. The creative dishes completely altered the way he thought of food. “Before, I regarded grocery shopping as a chore,” he says. “Now it’s a fun little scavenger hunt almost.”

In Houston, Tex., Elie Nassar works as a product manager for a software firm by day. In his spare time, he practises recipes from The Fat Duck Cookbook, The French Laundry Cookbook, and Modernist Cuisine. (The latter, a radical six-volume collection is perhaps the ultimate inspiration for hard-core culinary hobbyists. Author Nathan Myhrvold, a former chief technology officer at Microsoft, spent years tinkering and teasing out the intricacies of various cooking methods. His new book, Modernist Cuisine At Home, scheduled for publication in October, promises to be more accessible.)

Mr. Nassar, who posts the results of his efforts on his blog Oven-Dried Tomatoes, developed a love of food at a young age, growing up in Lebanon and watching his grandmother make everything from scratch. Experimenting with ever-more elaborate recipes and techniques is his way of learning, he says, noting it “kills” him when people regard high-end cookbooks as mere coffee table decoration. “So much work and so much testing and care went into [books] like this that it’s a shame not to use it and learn from it,” he says.

His attention to detail is apparent in his photos of artfully plated compositions, such as the stunning, home-made carbonated Mojito spheres he created using a reverse spherification technique.

Alineaphile in the Globe and Mail

When you’re working with rare and luxurious ingredients, it’s probably wise not to wing it. Martin Lindsay of San Diego says he once spent $200 (U.S.) on matsutake mushrooms from Oregon to reproduce a dish from Alinea.

“You know, you’re holding a bowl of $200 worth of mushrooms in your hand, thinking, ‘Hm. What am I doing? I’d better not screw up,” says Mr. Lindsay, a graphic designer who is working his way through the recipes in the book and blogs about his progress on his site, Alineaphile. He recently reached the halfway point after close to four years and celebrated the milestone by – you guessed it – treating himself to a dinner at Alinea.

Mr. Lindsay has literally gone to great lengths for his challenge. He once ordered Japanese junsai, the tiny branches and bulbs of an aquatic plant, from a spice shop in Paris. And when he failed to get his hands on cheese curds for Alinea’s version of a caprese salad, he learned to make them from scratch. As it turned out, that was the easy part. He then had to warm the curds and blow them into balloons, which he filled with tomato water foam, using a pressurized canister.

Yes, he admits, the hobby can be expensive. And yes, some recipes simply don’t turn out. But cooking offers him an outlet, after sitting in front of a computer all day. “It’s always just something I’ve enjoyed. It’s a very cathartic experience, cooking,” he says.

Mr. Lindsay anticipates it’ll take him another year and a half to finish his challenge. After that, he says he’ll likely try to tackle another demanding cookbook. Just recently, he visited an online forum, where someone had mentioned how crazy it would be to execute all 5,000-plus recipes in Escoffier: Le Guide Culinaire, regarded as the bible of French cuisine.

“I was thinking, ‘Hm..,’” Mr. Lindsay laughs. “Hm. I could do that.

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KUROGE WAGYU, Cucumber, Honeydew, Lime Sugar

Kuroge Wagyu, Cucumber, Honeydew, Lime Sugar – Alinea cookbook recipe, pages 78-79.

KUROGE WAGYU, Cucumber, Honeydew, Lime Sugar

I must admit that this was the first Wagyu steak I had ever prepared. And according to my family, it turned out to be the best steak they’d ever had. Others have completed their versions of this dish, including Allen Hemberger and Carol Blymire. So it was inevitable that I try my hand it!

You can’t go to more than a few restaurants here in Southern California without encountering the indigenous “Kobe beef slider.” Unfortunately, they are usually made with cheaper American “Kobe-style” beef, sometimes mixed with regular ground beef. You never really know.

Kobe beef comes from Wagyu cattle raised in the Kobe district of Japan. To be called “Kobe” beef, it must come from there, just as “Roquefort” bleu cheese must come from Roquefort, France.

What is “Kobe” beef?

Technically speaking, there’s no such thing as Kobe beef (as far as a specific breed is concerned), it is merely the shipping point for beef from elsewhere in Japan. What is called “Kobe beef” comes from the ancient province of Tajima, now named Hyogo Prefecture, of which Kobe is the capital. Real beef connoisseurs, however, still refer to it as Tajima beef. This beef comes from an ancient stock of cattle called “kuroge Wagyu” (black haired Japanese cattle).

Source: The Healthy Butcher

The really funny thing about “Kobe” beef is that you can’t get it here in the United States.

Nope. Illegal to bring into the U.S. Kinda like foie gras in California.

So any kobe beef you’ve had — or thought you hadwas not.

American “Kobe-style” beef does not come from Kobe Japan at all, but from cattle bred (somewhere down their ancestral line) with Japanese Wagyu, thus the less expensive price. More shockingly, the word “wagyu” in this case generally refers to all Japanese beef cattle. “Wa” stands for Japanese or japanese-style and “gyu” means cattle.

Legitimate producers grade their beef by marbling (BMS – beef marbling standard), color (BCS – beef coloring standard), texture/firmness, and fat (BFS – beef fat standard). So what are you really getting, and do you care that you are probably being ripped off? All I really know is that it tasted grrrrreat!

Beef Marbling Standards

Beef Marbling Standards - from Virngrund-Wagyu

Read Larry Olmstead’s three-part exposé on the Kobe Beef industry. It’s fascinating, maddening, and illuminating…

Lewis Black on Artisanal Foods

I found some “Wagyu” style beef at a store here in La Jolla named Jonathan’s Market. They’ll usually have the higher-end gourmet items there. One steak was about US$44.00, and that was plenty for this meal. Did not really feel like buying a full-on Wagyu beef cap. Seriously.

I cooked it en sousvide in my SousVide Supreme water oven, which btw, I’m really diggin’ right now. It’s been working like a charm. On a side note, when we were in Chicago for the NRA Show (food not guns), I stopped by the Eades Appliance Technology booth and chatted with founder Mary Eades and president Rex Bird about their SousVide Supreme. The units are selling briskly, they continue to improve their design, and professional models are being planned. In a fascinating spin on the current sous-vide boom, the introduction of sous-vide infused cocktails is becoming more popular. That’s what I’m talkin’ about!

Wagyu beef en sous vide

Then cooled in an ice bath.

Cooling the wagyu

Cut in strips, ready for searing, and refrigerated until needed.

wagyu kobe style beef

Wagyu beef cap or steak

Easy enough. I peeled an English cucumber, halved it lengthwise, then cut it into very thin, long slices…

English cucumber

Again, as with the cucumber, easy. I peeled and seeded a fresh honeydew melon, then cut it into thin planks.

Cutting up a honeydew

The only thing to keep in mind is keeping the width of your beef, cucumber and melon relatively uniform so they’ll match up at assembly.


Ripe hondeydew melon

Lime Sugar
This ended up more like a lime taffy, rather than a crispy lime sheet, probably because I didn’t follow the instructions. See what happens when you go rogue? Still tasted okay, though.

I did not have lime oil, so I boiled down some lime zests in sugar and water, hoping for the best! Then I combined some sugar, egg whites, citric acid, lime juice and my lime syrup, whisking until it was a thicken, pale white. Slated to taste.

The recipe says to now put this in between two sheets of teflon-coated paper – of which I had none. So, I smoothed it out as thinly as possible onto a silpat mat in my dehydrator.

It dehydrated more than 12 hours at 120°F, without crisping up. It was still a little chewy, oh well. So I broke it up into rough pieces for plating…

C&H cane sugar
Egg whites
Morton’s kosher salt, to taste
Citric acid
Fresh squeezed lime juice
Lime oil

Soy Pudding
I use the low-sodium form of soy sauce whenever it’s called for in a recipe. Don’t know if I’m noticeably reducing any threat from high sodium, but I do it anyway. Regular strength Kikkoman soy sauce (red top) has 920 mg. of sodium per tablespoon, while its reduced sodium version (green top) has 575 mg. per tablespoon. Well, that sounds a lot better — until I remember that 1,500 mg is the max daily amount I should be consuming at my age.

I heated the soy in a medium saucepan, then added the agar agar and blended with an immersion blender until incorporated. Then strained, set aside to cool, and refrigerated. Later, I blended it in my Oster bar blender until it thickened up some, and finally transferred the stuff to a small squeeze bottle.

making soy sauce pudding

Kikkoman reduced salt soy sauce
Agar agar

Taking a break, I noticed someone was eyeing my Cheetos…

cheeto stalker

To Assemble and Serve
I didn’t have any just pink peppercorns, so I picked out some from a bottle of multi-colored pepper I had oon-hand. I bit of work, and silly. But why buy a whole another bottle?

pink pepper

I did catch some flack on Instagram for that…

Salt and peppered the wagyu strips, then seared in a large cast iron skillet.

Searing the wagyu

Then let rest as I assembled the plates…

Seared wagyu resting

I laid out the melon slices in a row. We also had some steamed green beans (that’s why they’re in the photo – not part of this recipe). Then sliced the beef and layered over the melon, then added the thin cucumber strip over it. I laid a bead of soy pudding along its length, and a pool of the stuff at each end. Then topped with pink peppercorns, bit of the lime sugar sheets and fresh cilantro leaves.

Assembling the Wayu Beef recipe

Beautiful presentation. Delicious dish. Gotta do this one again!

Pink peppercorns
Cilantro leaves

Alinea Wagyu beef recipe

Cutting board and kitchen knife
Sousvide Supreme water oven
Stainless bowl and ice
Oster blender
Cuisineart immersion blender
Sieves and strainer
Cast iron skillet
Rubber spatula
Plastic containers and squeeze bottle
American Harvest dehydrator
Silpat mat

Yields: 4-8 servings, depending on the amount of beef you use, with a bit of soy pudding left over.

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