My adventures recreating Alinea Restaurant’s food at home

ICEFISH, Horseradish, Asparagus, Shellfish (Part Two)

Recipe, pages 72-75.
Continued from ICEFISH, Horseradish, Asparagus, Shellfish (Part One)

Day Two

Being on the West Coast, the local seafoods available to me are somewhat different than in Chicago. So I opted for using a few different shellfish from those used in the Alinea cook book, some frozen, some fresh. Clockwise from top left: frozen razor clams and green whelks (both from China), live Manilla clams, and frozen greenshell mussels (New Zealand).

The cornucopia of veggies and herbs used in this recipe:

First I thawed out the frozen shellfish, then scrubbed, rinsed and drained them all.

Mise en place:

I roughly cut up the fennel, shallots and celery and threw them in a large stockpot with the peppercorns, bay leaves and vermouth. I doubled the shellfish recipe for our barbecue. But I didn’t have enough vermouth on-hand (a result of a few to many martinis?), so I added some chardonnay and a touch of herbsaint. I cooked the stock, covered, for about ten minutes.

In the book they steam each kind of shellfish individually on high heat from three to seven minutes. I understand that each kind will open when cooked, and that time varies from one shellfish to another. But I guess I’m too impatient for that sort of thing, because I added all the shellfish at once, covered and steamed for about eight minutes.

I removed them with a strainer to cool.

I took the pot off the heat and let cool for a bit, then strained and reserved a portion of the liquid for the Horseradish Cream component recipe. The remainder I returned to the pot, as I was going to cook the rest of the seafood I’d purchased for the party…

I removed the meats from their shells, rinsed off any sand, cleaned and trimmed them. Put each in a small plastic container with a bit of the broth, in a bed of ice.

I removed some sand and nasty bits from the Manilla clams.

I removed the whelks from their shells with tweezers.

I must say, they were pretty damn gross looking. Then sliced them up thin.

I trimmed off the sandy stomachs from the razor clams.

Then sliced up into rings.

And finally, I trimmed the outer black rings from the the mussels.

The remainder of the steaming liquid? I used it for the rest of the shellfish, serving two large bowls of shellfish in steaming hot fennel broth (with generous sides of French bread).

Fresh fennel bulbs
Fresh shallots
Fresh celery
Whole red peppercorns
Fresh bay leaves, from my garden
Gallo dry vermouth
Edna Valley chardonnay
Herbsaint liqueur d’anis
Live Manilla clams, from Thuan Phat Supermarket
Pacifica frozen greenshell mussels, from Thuan Phat
Fuzhou frozen razor clams, from Thuan Phat
frozen green whelks, from Vien Dong

Horseradish Cream
The day before, I’d grated some fresh horseradish, so I took it out of the fridge and assembled my other mise en place:

In a medium saucepan I combined the cream, the reserved shellfish liquid and grated horseradish, and brought them to a boil for a bit. Then removed from heat, covered and let steep for about half an hour to get all horseradishy-hot…

Then I strained it into a pan, added the agar, sugar and salt, and again brought to a boil to dissolve the solids then removed from the heat.

In a stainless bowl I whisked together the egg yolks and cornstarch. This is where I diverged a bit from the regular recipe. In it, you temper the egg mixture with the warm shellfish-agar liquid, then heat and whisk.

What I did was heat the egg mixture very slowly over low heat, constantly whisking. This is sort of like making a hollandaise or sabayon — you don’t want to scramble the eggs. You want to slowly heat and whisk until they emulsify and thicken up. THEN I slowly added the warm shellfish-agar liquid (tempering the eggs) whisking constantly over low heat.

After it simmered and thickened, I removed the sauce from the heat to set up.

I transfered the sauce to my Oster bar blender and ran it on slow, slowly adding the Ultra-Tex 3 and xanthan gum until it was thick and smooth. I had to add just a touch more of the shellfish liquid I’d reserved to loosen it up a bit. The finished cream had a smooth, slightly sweet horseradish-fennel taste, quite good! I transfered the cream to a plastic squeeze bottle and reserved to my prep area.

Organic Valley heavy cream, from Whole Foods
Reserved shellfish cooking liquid, strained
Fresh horseradish root, from Whole Foods
Agar agar, from L’Epicerie
C&H cane sugar
Diamond Crystal kosher salt
Cage-free chicken egg yolks
Kingsford cornstarch
Ultra-Tex 3, from L’Epicerie
Xanthan gum, from L’Epicerie

Lemon Vinaigrette
Mise en place:

I combined the juice of a fresh lemon with the grapeseed oil, sugar and salt (to taste) in a stainless steel bowl and whisked until emulsified. Then transferred to a small plastic squeeze bottle and reserved to my prep area.

Fresh lemon juice
Grapeseed oil
C&H cane sugar
Diamond Crystal kosher salt

Asparagus Tips
I cut off one-and-a-half-inch tips from the asparagus spears, reserving the remaining stalks for the Coulis recipe. As suggested by the recipe, I made sure these tips stood up on their own. Ain’t dat cute.

Getting ready for the big pot blanching… I heated a big pot of water with salt to a rolling boil, and filled a stainless bowl with ice water.

My shocking setup:

I blanched the tips for about a minute, until they were bright green and still crisp. Then plunged them into the ice water to shock, or set, the color. Drained and put them into a small plastic container, dressing with some of the lemon vinaigrette and reserved to my prep area.

Fresh aparagus spears
Big pot of water for blanching
Diamond Crystal kosher salt

Asparagus Ribbons
While the pot of water was still boiling, I blanched the asparagus spears until they were bright green.

Then plunged them into the ice water bath. After they’d drained, I cut them lengthwise into one-quarter-inch-thick strips, (much like I had done with the cornichons), then reserved them to my prep area.

Fresh aparagus spears
Big pot of water for blanching
Diamond Crystal kosher salt

Asparagus Coulis
I cut the leftover asparagus stalks into one-inch pieces. While that same big pot of water was still boiling, I blanched the asparagus until it was bright green.

Then plunged the pieces into the ice water bath, drained, and transfered to my blender with some icewater and a little salt to taste.

Mise en place:

Blended on high until smooth, slowly adding the xanthan gum. It thickened as friction from the shearing heated up the coulis.

I transfered the asparagus coulis to a small plastic squeeze bottle and reserved to my prep area.

Leftover asparagus stalks from above
Big pot of water for blanching
Diamond Crystal kosher salt
Ice water
Xanthan gum, from L’Epicerie

Fried Parsley Leaves
I heated up my pot of canola oil to about 375ºF and fried some large parsley leaves. Actually, a more accurate word would be “incinerated.” At that temp, they shriveled up faster than you can say “Arnold Ernst Toht” (oblique Raiders of the Lost Ark reference).

I reduced the temp to 250ºF, as specified in the cookbook, and added some large parsley leaves. (I should really trust it a little more…) They fried up nicely, a bit slower, and retained their green color. This is what we want: crispy greens!

I carefully removed them from the oil to several layers of paper towels to drain, and hit ’em with a little kosher salt. Then put in the dehydrator to dry out for a bit, (because you can’t pat them dry, after all). After that, I reserved them to a plastic container in my prep area.

Fresh Italian parsley
Pot of canola oil for frying

Micro Chives
I didn’t splurge on micro chives. I bought a regular-sized bunch at my local farmer’s market, and they worked out fine. Micro chives can cost up to US$16.00 a package at local specialty produce companies. Just couldn’t do it.

I picked out some of the nicest, thinnest tips from the bunch, rinsed them off in cold water, and reserved to my prep area. Now I was finally ready to assemble!

To Assemble and Serve
Everything in this dish is either chilled or room temp, except for the goby fish, which is fried at the last minute. This makes plating relatively simple, even though it has so many components…

I heated a pot of canola oil to 350ºF and fried the goby fish in small batches…

… until a crispy brown, drained on paper towels, and salted to taste.

Then assembled everything in my prep area. Got out my Alinea “Craters” plates (available from J.B. Prince, US$52.50/each). And was ready to go! The Leffe bier? Not in the recipe, but nevertheless absolutely necessary.

My extensive mise en place:

I drained each of the shellfish then dressed with some the lemon vinaigrette.

I squeezed a generous line of horseradish cream along the length of the plate. This will be the base in which we stick a bunch of the garnishes. Working quickly from one end, I randomly placed the lemon dice, shellfish, asparagus tips, garlic chips, horseradish chips, potato chips, cornichons, onions, capers, parsley and chives. Then squeezed some asparagus coulis in the two “craters” of the plate. Lastly, I added the fried fish. Beautiful!

How did people like it? They raved about it, asking me “what’s this?” while holding up a dried horseradish stick or pointing to the asparagus coulis. It was a great new taste experience for many, even for the one friend of mine who calls this stuff “trick food.”

Now what did I say about plating be so easy? After all was said and done (and eaten), I realized I’d not added the asparagus ribbons, fried capers nor parsley leaves to the dish I photographed. Damn.

Pot of canola oil for frying
Diamond Crystal kosher salt

Crucial Detail “Craters” plates, from J.B. Prince


Item Price Source
Pineapple Brand frozen baby goby fish (Vietnam) $2.99 / 340g (12oz) package Vien Dong World Foods Supermarket
frozen green whelks (China) $2.99 / pound Vien Dong World Foods Supermarket
Fuzhou frozen razor clams (China) $3.99 / 397g (14oz) package Thuan Phat Supermarket (Sieu thi Thuan Phat)
live Manilla clams $5.95 Thuan Phat Supermarket (Sieu thi Thuan Phat)
Pacifica frozen greenshell mussels (New Zealand) $3.99 / 470g (16oz) package Thuan Phat Supermarket (Sieu thi Thuan Phat)
Alinea “Craters” Plate, by Crucial Detail $52.50 / each J.B. Prince

Yields: Eight servings, or less if you make them family-style servings

Next, TOMATO, Mozzarella, Many Complementary Flavors (Part 1)

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