My adventures recreating Alinea Restaurant’s food at home

IDIAZÁBAL, Blis Maple Syrup, Smoked Salt

Recipe, page 246.

There’s something I find so appealing about Spanish cheeses. Maybe the salty, nutty quality that the sheep’s milk provides. I dunno. But whatever it is, when you deep fry it and add the sweetness of aged maple and saltiness of French smoked fleur de sel, it’s irresistible.

If you like that kinda thing, these cheese crisps are to die for. They’re like cheese puffs for adults!

About Spanish Cheeses
Idiazábal (ee-dyah-THA-ball) is a firm sheep’s milk cheese from the Basque Country in Spain. During production, the wheels are sometimes smoked over beechwood, hawthorn, or cherry wood, imparting a slight smokey quality that adds wonderfully to the rich, nutty flavor. Although the town no longer exists, the name of this cheese comes from the town Idiazábal, where the cheeses were taken to market.

If you can’t find Idiazábal, use one of these similar cheeses: Zamorano, Roncal, or Manchego.

Zamorano (sah-moh-RAHN-oh) is a hard sheep’s milk cheese, noticeably nuttier and richer than Manchego. The nomadic shepherding families of Northwestern Castilla y León have been hand-crafting Zamorano for centuries. Zamorano has a sharp, moderately gamey, sheep’s milk flavored bite and texture that melts in the mouth.

Roncal (rohn-KAHL) comes from the rich sheep’s milk of the Lacha and Aragonesa breeds. Depending on the season, these herds graze in the high Pyrenees or the Bardena area of Navarra, the province that was the setting for Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Roncal, made in one of seven villages in the Valle de Roncal, has nutty and piquant flavors with a firm, chewable texture. It was the first cheese in Spain to receive a Denomination of Origin (D.O.).

Manchego (mahn-CHEH-goh) is made exclusively from the milk of Manchega Entrefino sheep grazing upon the plains of La Mancha in Spain. Made from raw milk and aged for several months, it’s nutty, sweet, and tangy with a firm texture. After 12 months, it becomes tastier, saltier and excellent for grating.

Descriptions courtesy of Artisanal Cheese.

Mise en place:

I grated the cheese and added it, the tapioca flour and salt to a food processor. Ran on high for a couple of minutes, then added the water while it was still on.

This makes an elastic cheese dough ball.

I flattened the dough and placed between two sheets of plastic wrap.

Then rolled out the dough to about one eighth of an inch thick.

While it was still in the plastic wrap, I put the dough on a rack in a simmering steamer for 12 minutes on each side.

WAIT! I checked on it at six minutes — and it looks like crap! The steam and heat, combined with weight of the melty cheese made it sink through the bars of the rack! I don’t want half-inch strips! I want a whole sheet of this stuff.

Time for emergency triage.

I took it out, kneaded it into a ball, and reflattened with a rolling pin again. This time, I put the dough on a base of two cloth napkins. That should hold it while it steams…

Where was I? Oh yes. While it was still in the plastic wrap, I put the dough on a rack in a simmering steamer for 12 minutes on each side. Then carefully removed it from the steamer. The dough was now very plasticky and pretty sturdy.

In the cookbook, they say to put the whole sheet in a dehydrator. But I don’t have one of the big ones like they use at Alinea. So, I broke it up to fit into my dehydrator. Actually, tore it up, ’cause it was so stretchyyyy!

Dried out for 2.5 hours at 135ºF, until crispy dry. Then you need to break it up into individual portions for frying.

Although the recipe calls for canola oil for frying, I had peanut oil in my deep fryer, so that’s what I used. Fried in the oil at 375ºF (that’s as high as my fryer will go) until they puffed up and browned just a bit.

They puff up like chicharrón, but I’m hoping they taste better than those puffed pork skins. Removed to dry on paper towels.

UPDATE: You want to get them crispy. Things I learned making my second batch: If you steam the dough long enough, dry them out completely as possible, then use HOT oil, they’ll come out like tender cheese puffs. If the oil is not hot enough, or if they are not fried long enough, then the “Cheetos” will be chewy.

Idiazábal cheese, from the Cheese Store of Silverlake
Tapioca flour
Diamond Crystal Kosher salt
Canola Oil

To Assemble and Serve
With a mortar and pestle, I ground the maple sugar granules and smoke sea slat into a fine powder. The salt came in a plastic bag in a tin. When opened up it was moist. After I pulverized the sugar and salt together, the mix retained the moisture from the salt. This made it a bit challeging to sprinkle in small amounts, as it tended to clump up. I’d suggest to you to dry it out a bit, if needed, before applying.

I broke up the larger crisps into smaller portions.

With a brush (Robert Simmons white sable watercolor), I painted one side of each crisp with a layer maple syrup, then sprinkled with the maple sugar/salt combo and remaining grated cheese.

Toasted under a broiler, and placed into wheel serving pieces. Sounds like a trip to The Home Depot is required!

Wheel Serving PiecesHow to make your own Wheel Serving Pieces
Alinea uses cool stainless steel “wheel” serving pieces designed by Crucial Detail, currently not for sale from their website. So I made some of my own.

I bought some trailer hitch pins, metal car washers (3/8″ diameter), black vinyl tubing to match, and faucet washers from The Home Depot. I cut a piece of the tubing and slipped over the hitch pin, to anchor the washers. Added a metal washer, 2 faucet washers and finished with a last metal washer. They could probably use something on the ring end to stabilize the “pitch and yaw” when loaded with food.

Overall, they work pretty well — for less than $14.00.

These were very good. The crispy cheese texture/taste, mixed with the salty/sweet combination make themit a wonderful appetizer or intermezzo. There’s a subtle earthiness within the cheese, brought out by the aged maple and smoked salt.

Eat them while they’re fresh — if you refrigerate for later, they’ll become a bit chewy…

Bourbon barrel-aged organic maple syrup, from Blis Gourmet
Shady Maple Farms organic maple granules, from Whole Foods
Hardwood smoked fleur de sel de Guérande, from Blis Gourmet
Idiazábal Cheese, from the Cheese Store of Silverlake

Alinea “wheel” serving pieces, by Crucial Detail,
Or, make your own!

Microplane grater
Kitchen knife and cutting board
Measuring cups
Salter digital scale
Plastic containers
Food processor
Plastic wrap
Rolling pin
Steamer (or turkey roaster) with rack and lid
Deep fryer, or large pot and thermometer
Sheet tray
Paper towels

Yields: 12-16 Servings.

Goes well with:
Spanish Navarra wines or bigger reds such as Merlot.

Next, PHEASANT, Cider, Shallot, Oak

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