It was a comfy pants day, catching up on some Tivo’d food network shows, but unable to take full advantage of the down time. I was settling into the sparkling wine episode of American Iron Chef and getting pissed off as neither of the Chefs tasted the wine prior to cooking with it!! Your secret ingredient is four different wines and not one, not even a sous chef tasted the bloody wine!! I can feel the past few years of frustration rise to the surface like scum on a stock as the chefs instantly knew the menu they were making and so did their sous chefs without uttering a SINGLE WORD. Call me naive, in the same way I wanted to believe in Santa, I wanted to believe they were “shootin from the hip” and their culinary creativity was culminating before my very eyes.
At least the hostility awoke the cook in me and while flipping through some food porn earlier in the day, a picture of latke’s with smoked salmon turned me on. I just happen to have some freshly cured salmon in the fridge looking for an excuse to be used. If these guys can whip up four courses in an hour I can cook some fucking potatoes in the same time.
With the co-ordination of a kung fu master, I had pans coming out the cupboard, ingredients picked off shelves. Within a minute I had a small frying pan filled with water to poach an egg, a medium frying pan slowly warming up to sauté some leeks, and a bowl with a couple potatoes in it is ready to be grated. I’m pretty sure I also unloaded the dishwasher with my feet as everything was being executed with such grace and precision.
So why distract you with the details of cooking potatoes? What’s my point, my angle, my purpose?
I want to take food and wine understanding to a new level. Nothing frustrates me more than experiencing wrong or misunderstood food and wine pairings. It is my goal this year to blog about food and wine experiences and bring a new perspective and understanding to what is happening. Call it a new years resolution, a hobby, a passion, a potential book, it doesn’t matter? I do care about trying to get it right and by utilizing 10 years in professional kitchens and 10 years as a sommelier, I think the time has come to better understand food and wine.
The iron chef (I purposely didn’t capitalize that) starts by putting each of the four sparkling wines into a liquor glass and balances a bellini and the corresponding pairing on top of each one. In fact, I loved the presentation and will use it myself one day. The problem is, he starts with the sweetest bubbles in a lineup that has some pretty delicate sparklings. The only wine that had the guts to go after the demi-sec champagne is maybe the rose Cava? Not the Prosecco or California sparkling! Regardless the pairing for the champagne was caviar with chive cream and I can totally see the salt and sweetness working together, but also overpowering the flavours all the wines to come. Next was the Prosecco with a pickled artichoke heart???? Ouch. I did like the cava cured salmon idea, but not a large chunk of filet in an hour? The point is, when you start to understand ingredients and how they interact, you start to see patterns emerging. I will talk about these in posts to come and take you away from the archaic and irrelevant rules we have been crippled with.
Latke’s with cured salmon, avocado, and poached egg.
I grated the potatoes and tossed them with a good pinch of flaked salt to help extract some moisture and a good drizzle of olive oil to prevent them from darkening with oxidation. While they were sitting, I sliced the leeks and fried them with a touch of grape seed oil and butter. Chopped up a small handful of fresh parsley and started to squeeze out
the potatoes by hand. Getting rid of the extra moisture in the potatoes also eliminates some potato starch and helps them from becoming too gluey tasting. I mixed in the parsley, the caramelized leeks, and a few good cracks of black pepper from the mill. I was ready to size up the portions I wanted and start frying.
Butter and potatoes – could there be a better partnership?
The potatoes take on a nutty sweetness from the butter as it starts to brown and when the shredded potato takes on a deep beautiful brown color it has a perfect crispness that is almost addictive when eating.
Poached Eggs, how I toil with my little nemesis. I have never had much success with the perfect poached egg. Most of the time it looks more like a marshmallow ejaculated into my vinegar water. I figured if I reduced the amount of space the egg had to poach in, it would increase the chance of the poached egg staying more compact. I boiled just enough water that when I placed the egg in, the top of the yolk and the water line were at the same level. As you can see in the picture it
worked fairly well, it did give the impression that the egg was fried as the yolk was not enveloped in the albumen, but otherwise a nice looking egg, so I’m happy.
The latke is cooked, the egg is poached, the rest is just assembly. The latke, a little avocado, some cured salmon, the poached egg, a couple more cracks of black pepper, a few granules of flaked salt and ‘bob’s your uncle’.
You ready to taste?
The sweet nutty intensity from the potato layered with the slight starchiness was a perfect contrast for the green and sweet flavours from the leek and parsley. Black pepper flavour likes to sit on the back of your palate towards the roof of your mouth. The cured salmon was done with black pepper and orange peel that gave a dimensional feel as you could sense the fish and its slight rubbery-ness in your mid palate but the orange and black pepper flavours lingered around afterwards. If the salmon is cut thin enough, pressing it against the roof of your palate can dissolve it. If cut too thick, it gets too elastic and chewy and is a turn off.
Avocado is such an amazing fruit, aside from its nutritional values, it has a softness that lends itself to flavour and texture. The avocado helps tie this dish together as it’s easily over powered by other flavours but offers up this beautiful mouth coating property that frames it all in. The creamy yolk does the same but in a richer and almost grittier manner. The egg white is another neutral texture and flavour that can be easily be overpowered by even a small piece of parsley.
These flavours and textures together in a single bite is why the simplicity in food is often overlooked. A basic dish by any means and yet the flavours are concise, pure, and complimentary.
The wine was a day old Blue Mountain Brut, NV. I had cracked it on New Years Eve and just wasn’timpressed with it. I was finding it too aggressive, thin, and alcoholic for my palate that night. I’m chalking it up to a bad biodynamic tasting day as nothing tasted too great that night.
Paired with this dish, the wine’s acidity softened and the complimentary flavours played on the nutty tones with light apple and pear flavours cleansing the palate. I have a theory that wine has to give up something if you have residual textures on your palate. In this case we had four main ingredients that left palate coating properties. The potato left starch, the avocado left fats, the egg yolk left fats and a dominant amount of flavour, and the salmon left salts, fats, dominant flavour, and spice from the peppercorn.
My theory is that a wine gives up its dominant attributes first and in this case it was its acidity. What I found overpowering the night before, I now found softened and richly textured giving the wine a more balanced and enjoyable feel. The yeast and nutty flavours in the wine were dominated by the citrus and apple flavours before. Now they are brought to the forefront and very complimentary to the nuttiness from the potatoes. The effervescence of the wine kept my palate refreshed and the lack of sweetness allowed the black pepper spice to linger around in a pleasant manner on the finish.
Overall a wonderful pairing and the perfect way to work off my Iron Chef frustrations. A great way to start the year.
Happy New Year.