My adventures recreating Alinea Restaurant’s food at home

TOMATO, Balloon of Mozzarella, Many Complementary Flavors (Part 2)

Continued from TOMATO, Balloon of Mozzarella, Many Complementary Flavors (Part 1)

Day Three

Preserved Meyer Lemons
I preserved some Meyer lemons for my first post on this blog, and am still using them. So I simply retrieved one for this recipe.

Using a knife and a vegetable peeler, I removed just the yellow peel from the lemon. I trimmed off any remaining white pith.

Then cut it up into a teeny, tiny dice. And reserved to a small plastic container.

Meyer lemons, from my tree
C&H cane sugar
Diamond Crystal kosher salt

Lemon Couscous
There are several varieties couscous, (KOOS koos), a cereal made from semolina, durum wheat or millet. Generally, moist semolina is rolled then coated with wheat flour. Some are rolled larger and some finer than others. This recipe calls for Israeli couscous, which is a larger sized granule than your standard grocery store variety. I didn’t have any at the time, so I used pearl millet. I also had some durum wheat (from North Park Produce) on-hand that could have worked.

I later found some Israeli couscous at Good For You Gourmet at Hillcrest Farmer’s Market in San Diego.

Notice the larger diameter grain:

Mise en place:

I brought a small pot of salted water to a boil, and added the couscous. While that was boiling, I lined a tray with parchment. Cooked the couscous for about 15 minutes, until it was al dente.

Then strained, and spread on the prepared tray to cool and dry out a bit.

I combined the cooked couscous in a bowl with the diced lemon zest, lemon juice and olive oil.

I like this component recipe, I use it as a base all the time for cooking couscous and rice!

Pot of boiling water
Morton’s kosher salt
Israeli couscous, durum wheat or millet
Olive oil
Fresh lemon juice
Preserved Meyer lemon zest, from above
Morton’s kosher salt, to taste

Molasses Gelée
I soaked the gelatin sheets in cold water to hydrate, then squeezed out the excess water. Mise en place:
Recipe, pages 140-143.

I combined the water, molasses and sugar in a medium saucepan and brought them to a boil to dissolve the solids. Removed from the heat, stirred in the gelatin, and salted to taste.

Strained through a chinois into a prepared glass pan to a depth of one-eighth inch (even though the pictures in the cookbook indicate a much thinner sheet). The refrigerated for about an hour and a half, until it set up.

Unsulfured dark molasses
C&H cane sugar
Rousselot “silver” gelatin sheets, from L’Epicerie
Pinch Morton’s kosher salt

Saffron Gelée
Just like in the previous recipe, I soaked the gelatin sheets in cold water to hydrate, then squeezed out the excess water. Mise en place:

I combined the reserved tomato water and saffron in a medium saucepan and brought to a boil.

Removed from the heat and let steep for twenty minutes, then strained out the saffron threads.

The I heated it up again and whisked in the gelatin until dissolved.

Strained again through a chinois on top of the molasses gel. Then refrigerated until set up.

But 1/4″ was too thick to roll, even if I let it warm up to room temp…

Tomato water, reserved from above
Saffron threads
Rousselot “silver” gelatin sheets, from L’Epicerie
Pinch Morton’s kosher salt

Mozzarella Balloons
Soft balloons made of fresh mozzarella filled with a tomato water foam. These are delicious, surprising and delicate.

And difficult to make. Takes a lot of trial and error. Perhaps if you made 100 of these a day, it’d be a snap. But not for me. I finally got enough to serve, but it was ugly.

These balloons loosely resemble the Italian mozzarella burrata, a soft cheese “balloon” filled with even softer cheese mixed with cream. What a nerd: I can never say ‘burrata’ without repeating “Klaatu barada nikto” from The Day the Earth Stood Still.

After experimenting, I found that you don’t have to use fresh buffalo mozzarella curd, nor make your own. If you find the freshest, softest mozzarella around, you can use it instead. I tried softening some mozzarella in a pot of hot water and it became pliable enough to blow into balloons with the foam canister.

Tomato Water Foam

Mise en place:

Softened the gelatin sheets in cold water, squeezed and reserved. Heated the tomato water and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan. Then added gelatin, stirring to dissolve.

Got my ISO siphon canister ready. Prepared a stainless bowl with an ice bath to chill the canister. Poured the tomato-gelatin mixture in the siphon, sealed up.

And pressurized with a cartridge. It took two cartridges to get the canister to the right pressure.

Set the can in the ice bath to chill. It’ll let the gelatin thicken up a bit for a thicker foam.

Mozzarella Balloons

I brought a pot of hot water to 160ºF to heat up the mozzarella curd. Plopped in a ball of cheese and let it get elastic and pliable (about 5 minutes). Oww. I found that there’s a balance of how hot the water should be and how hot the cheese will be in your hands.

I took a piece of cheese and molded it into a flat pizza-disc about three inches in diameter. Then I put my thumb and pointer finger together, creating a horizontal ring, and placed the cheese atop them, making a depression in the center. I placed the foam canister nozzle into this depression and gathered up the cheese around it tightly in my fingers (creating a tight ring or seal).

When you start the foam from the canister, be careful: mine sputtered and I got a couple balloons with little or no foam inside. It helped if I pointed the nozzle down and started slowly.

Once it filled up, I twisted it shut to seal in the foam and reserved on a layer of paper towels. Then repeated…

Sorry, no pictures of this process. My hands were quite full!

After all that, they looked quite nice when plated.

Tomato water, reserved from above
Rousselot “silver” gelatin sheets, from L’Epicerie
Pot of water
Morton’s kosher salt
Fresh mozzarella curd, or very soft, fresh mozzarella

Cucumber Pickling Liquid
So easy: I dumped the vinegar and simple syrup in the blender and ran it.

While it was blending, I added the Ultra-Tex 3 powder slowly, blending until it was completely incorporated. It began to thicken up (I love Utra-Tex).

Reserved to a small container.

White wine vinegar
Simple syrup, see recipe
Ultra-Tex 3, from L’Epicerie
Morton’s kosher salt, to taste

Diced Cucumber
I peeled and seeded an English cucumber. Then diced it up (about 1/8″ dice).

Tossed it with a little of the reserved cucumber pickling liquid (more like a gel), and a touch of salt and pepper to taste. Then reserved to my prep area.

English cucumber
Reserved a href=”#cucumberpicklingliquid”>cucumber pickling liquid
Morton’s kosher salt, to taste

Spiral of Molasses and Saffron Gelées, v1.0
Version 1.0: Jelly did not roll at 1/8″ thick. Cracked. Then fell apart.

Spiral of Molasses and Saffron Gelées, v2.0
Version 2: Used less gelatin and poured thinner, and jelly rolled. But cracked. Then fell apart.

Spiral of Molasses and Saffron Gelées, v3.0
Version 3: Combined both gelées instead of trying to layer, using less gelatin. Jelly rolled successfully, and even made it to the plate! But then fell apart just before I photographed it…

“When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built in all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up. And that’s what you’re going to get, Lad, the strongest castle in all of England.”

To Assemble and Serve
Assembly is crazy-hectic. Everything must be executed at the same time! Yikes! My post-apocalyptic prep area:

Think of it as a long snail… I laid a tomato strip down on an Alinea “Craters” plate. Drizzled with olive oil and added salt and pepper. Then added a dollop of curry to the left end, followed by cucumber salad in the center and lemon couscous at the right. Put a mozzarella balloon (the snail shell) at the right end. Then added two onion sticks (antennae) to the puddinhead, a baby cucumber (cornichon dipped in pickling gel), half a crumb brick, and a “spiral” of molasses-saffron gel next to the crumb mound.

Garnished with basil leaves and flower pods, and topped the mozzarella balloon with rose sea salt and saffron threads. Whew.

I guess this cooking experience wasn’t so bad after all, but —

I had no baby cucumber with attached flowers, so I used cornichons instead.

The mozzarella balloons (version 1.0) deflated when left out too long. Don’t try and refrigerate overnight either (version 2.0). Won’t work. Trust me.

The couscous was difficult to wrangle into a clean pile.

And although the gelée roll (version 3.0) survived long enough to make it to the table, just before I photographed it, the roll collapsed under its own weight — again. Dammit.

Amused at these shenanigans, my son impertinently suggested I post the photos on Fail Blog. Thanks, Julian.

Here’s how to hide all that with photography: just shoot it at the right angle and crop out what you don’t like…

Black pepper
Murray River sea salt, or rose salt
Saffron threads
Olive oil
Baby cucumbers with blossoms attached (or cornichons)
Basil flower pods
Mini Italian basil leaves
Mini purple basil leaves

After all was said and done, it tasted delicious, like a caprese salad on steroids! Compared to building it, I had no trouble finishing it off.

And no need for the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch after all …

Pretty much everything in the kitchen…
Cutting board and kitchen knife
Salter digital scale
Stock pot and electronic thermometer
Medium saucepan, small pots
Rubber spatula, spoons
Strainers, sieves, and chinois
Meat slicer
Glass tray or pan
Sheet pans
Vacuum sealer and bags
Oster bar blender
Cuisinart mini food processor
ISI foam canister
Plastic containers

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

Yields: about eight servings, with lots of curry pudding and crumb rocks left over.

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