My adventures recreating Alinea Restaurant’s food at home

SOUR CREAM, Sorrel, Smoked Salmon, Pink Pepper

Alinea Recipe, pages 58-59.

Ever have an appetizer with sour cream and smoked salmon at a party? How about the ubiquitous sour cream and spinach dip, or the ever-popular sour cream and onion soup dip?

This easy recipe from Alinea Restaurant is a playful version of all those tried-and-true party favorites we’ve all had our fair share of. But with a twist! They don’t cook anything with heat, they freeze it on an “Anti-Griddle,” for a surprisingly refreshing appetizer that’s unexpected, but familiar all at the same time.

Smoked Salmon
I bought a small package of smoked wild Alaskan salmon at Whole foods and froze it the night before. This will be grated onto the appetizers later when I plate.

Smoked salmon from Whole Foods

Sour Cream
I whisked together some sour cream and agave nectar with a pinch of salt until all ingredients were combined and the consistency was creamy.

The recipe says to use simple syrup. I had none at the time, but the agave nectar I had sounded good, so I used it instead. Turns out to be a pretty good substitute most of the time (especially good in margaritas, or in tea instead of honey).

Then put the sour cream mixture into a squeeze bottle and reserved to my prep area.

Hampshire sour cream
Madhava agave nectar (or simple syrup)
Morton’s kosher salt

The day before I went to several grocery stores for sorrel, to no avail. Sometimes you can find sorrel at Little Italy Farmer’s Market in San Diego. Nope. Not this time. Then I went to Specialty Produce (1929 Hancock Street, San Diego, California 92110, 619-295-3172), and of course they had it! So I got a package of fresh micro sorrel leaves (along with some truffles and truffle juice for a future recipe). I rinsed the leaves off in cold water and held them in a container in my prep area. I had a lot of sorrel left over, and used in salads for the rest of the week.

Fresh, organic micro sorrel leaves, from Specialty Produce

Pink Peppercorn Skins
I took some pink peppercorns and smashed them up a bit to release their papery skins, then reserved the skins in a small plastic container in my prep area. The peppercorns I saved for the peppermill.

Whole, dried pink peppercorns

To Assemble and Serve
I set up my prep area with everything I needed for a quick plating job. Mise en place:

The dry ice I kept in a styrofoam ice chest, and used gloves to handle…

The recipe book says something along the lines of “squeeze a dollop of sour cream onto the frozen surface of anti-griddle.”

Well. I don’t have the Anti-griddle (US$1199) from PolyScience.

Although it would be fun to play around with, there are other toys I’d rather have a go at first. And besides, it’s Halloween! I’ll use dry ice.

I need dry ice. For the graveyard in the front. Comes in handy on occasions like tonight. I gotta lotta little devils to terrify.

We used some for our LOST Finale Party last May. I wanted to make a “smoke monster” punch and settled on a 1959 recipe for Mai Kai “Last Rites” punch. That was good — you can ask the few people that can remember — after having it!

I tried putting a cookie sheet on top of a slab of dry ice, but it just didn’t get cold enough. When I squeezed my “dollops” of sour cream onto it, nothing happened. The slab of dry ice was too small. Larger slabs (10lbs or so) work. So I ended up squeezing the sour cream directly on to the dry ice.

After I’d squeezed out some puddles of the sour cream, I took a few small sorrel leaves and stuck them in each. As the sour cream begins to freeze, so do the sorrel leaves…

Then I took the salmon out of the freezer and grated some on top of each sour cream mound with a Microplane. You want to put on the garnishes quickly so they stick, before the sour cream gets to hard.

Then sprinkled each with the pink peppercorn skins.

This was by far one of the easiest recipes from the Alinea Restaurant cook book. The only difficult thing might be the procurement of dry ice. But not so much. I found mine at my local grocers, Albertsons. They sell Penguin brand dry ice at most locations near me in San Diego. You just have to ask for it from the cashiers.

And how did it taste? Pretty yummy — if eaten while still frozen. Wait too long and you’ll be craving a baked potato to go with that sour cream!

Happy Halloween, our pet zombie Billy says “hi!”

Cutting board and kitchen knife
Salter digital scale
Stainless bowl
Wire whisk
Plastic squeeze bottle
Plastic containers
Sheet tray and paper towels
Microplane grater
Antigriddle, from PolyScience, or
Half sheet tray
Dry ice, in a cooler

Alinea “Eye” service piece by Crucial Detail

This amuse bouche is served at Alinea in an “Eye” piece (available at J.B. Prince, US$49.50, or from Crucial Detail, US$37.50), a borosilicate (aka: PYREX®) glass core held in an acrylic sleeve, designed by Crucial Detail to retain cold temperatures after freezing. The dish is presented with a 0.75″ wide offset spatula, which fits in the niche at its bottom. I didn’t purchase these, so I used a small ceramic offset bowl.

Yields: Lots more than 8 servings! With a squeeze bottle of sour cream and a package of sorrel leftover.

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