Casco Bay Lobster and White Asparagus Terrine -101

One of the greatest things about spring is asparagus and of that noble vegetable, white stands alone.  For our spring degustation we celebrate the white asparagus with texture and a classic flavor marriage.  Here lobster, asparagus, vanilla, lemon and April almond come together to signal that the days of butternut squash are firmly behind us.  Here at the restaurant, Chef Frank has been cooking white asparagus with vanilla, milk, and lemon for many years.  So we took that initial procedure and expanded it into this…

The dish has several components: bitter almond milk fluid gel, N2O charged white asparagus puree, raw white asparagus, brown butter emulsion (50% milk/50% brown butter and 1% lecithin), lightly blanched April almonds, butter poached Maine lobster and Apple Street Farm radish sprouts.  At center stage, the most technical component, is the terrine of lobster and white asparagus.  Here is how we do it…

White Asparagus should be, well white.  However, the very best white asparagus, those grown in the French/German style outdoors (versus a greenhouse) may have a small amount of purple towards the tip.  Usually this open air asparagus comes mid-way through the season.  Check for freshness by looking at the bottoms, they should be free of any deep cracks and not discolored.

A great local place to find such seasonal product is Russo’s in Watertown, their section is phenomenal for a walk-in grocer, not to mention in season they stock numerous New England farm products.

From here we get to peeling; start by removing the bottom 2-3 inches of the asparagus, the “woodiest” part (reserve this for puree).  Then peel one inch from the tip to the trimmed bottom. Do not miss any areas, the exterior can be bitter and tough, completely noticeable in the finished product. We like to bundle them before cooking to prevent breakage as they can be brittle.

Now prepare a poaching liquid of milk, salt, vanilla, lemon peel, and a dash of sugar.  Place the asparagus in this cold liquid and slowly bring to a very gentle simmer.

 

 

It is crucial not to overcook the asparagus as texture and flavor will be lost.  Also do not be too severe with the heat as your milk will separate.  To prevent the asparagus from forming a “second skin” if you will, it is always proper to cover the exposed surface with a cartouche (a simple circle of parchment paper).  Once the asparagus is 90% cooked it should be removed from the heat so it can cool in the milk.  This allows the flavors to build while the asparagus marinates in the milk, allow at least one day in the refrigerator for maximum effect.

Once the asparagus is complete we prepare the terrine molds.  Many wraps can be used when constructing terrines; eggplant, zucchini, cured meats, even thinly sliced smoked salmon all can serve as the outer layer.

Here we are using one of the most classic wrappers, blanched leek.  We prefer to use the pale green/yellow portion of the leek; not only does this add a pleasant savory flavor, it is also more tender and aesthetic than the greenest portion of the leek.  Simply choose your layers, blanch in heavily salted water, shock in ice water, and layer along the plastic wrapped terrine mold.

Next, prepare the milk liquid which will bind the terrine; we use a combination of .5% agar agar and 4% gelatin (in sheet form).  Remove the marinating asparagus and weigh the necessary amount of milk.  Bring 1/3rd of the milk to a simmer (bring the rest to room temperature) and whisk in the agar, stirring continuously for 4 minutes.  This will hydrate/activate the agar; combine this with the rest of the milk and the gelatin, reserve in a warm place.

 

 

To complete the terrine we plunge the white asparagus and cooked lobster meat (always freshly cooked) into the milk mixture.  This allows for the gelling agents to completely coat the ingredients and thus seal them on all sides.  From here on in it is simple assembly.  Neatly lay the asparagus into the terrine lined with leek, allowing for some transfer of milk, to fill the spaces in between.  Trim the lobster tail (or pieces) to fill the middle.  Finally lay the leek over the top, trimming with shears to allow for some overlap, use a small brush to coat between the leek leaves, this will ensure a good seal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, wrap the whole terrine with the existing plastic wrap, gently weight, and refrigerate for a minimum of 6-8 hours.  Carefully slide the terrine out of the mold and unwrap.  Using a very thin, sharp knife, slice to approximately 1 ½ inches (or to your desire).  Below is a terrine I made with Peter, it was not our first attempt.  Terrines take practice…as they are often more finesse and experience than recipe.  Happy building…

 

 

Cooking with Cheese: Cheese Tuesday visits Vermont

One of the fun parts of Cheese Tuesday is coming up with three cheese driven dishes each month. This is how Matthew Delisle and I came up with last week’s menu.

The theme was Vermont Artisan Cheese, I had three cheeses I wanted to feature with the savory courses (and 9 more for the grand cheese tasting) and it is the height of Spring. We started with the cheese, and threw out suggestions and ideas, until they coalesced into these dishes.

Spring baby beets with ginger poached rhubarb, Coupole, and verjus

Coupole, an aged goat’s milk cheese from Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery, has been my go-to cheese of late. It is a small dome shaped cheese with a wrinkly geotrichum rind and is packaged in a nifty little wooden box that allows it to age beautifully in a home refrigerator. It is perfect as a snacking cheese (I like it with a bit of honey) but is also a great team player as a component of a salad. Matt had some tender baby candy striped beets in house, and rhubarb is ubiquitous at this time of year. The tanginess of goat cheese is a perfect foil to the sweet earthiness of beets, and the smooth, light but dense texture of a moderately aged Coupole would be a great foil to the smooth, toothy texture of the beets. Uncooked rhubarb would be way too sour and would throw everything off balance, so Matt poached it in ginger syrup to sweeten it up and add a gentle warmth to the dish.

At plating time, Matt made a circle of the red, pink, and yellow roasted beets, interspersed with a dice of raw beet for crunch, and half-moons of the poached rhubarb. A nice wedge of Coupole was nestled in the center, and everything was drizzled with a tangy blend of verjus and the rhubarb poaching liquid. A sprinkle of baby basil from Apple Street completed the salad.

 

 

 

Smoked chicken, Lyonnaise potatoes, sautéed ramps, and a Raclette “veil”

Raclette is the classic Alpine melting cheese of France and Switzerland. It has a smooth, semi-firm texture, a gorgeous rosy rind, and a flavor that is a rich mix of earth and sweet milkiness. It is typically melted at the edge of a fire and scraped onto boiled potatoes. Spring Brook Farm in central Vermont creates an exceptional raclette from Jersey cow milk that has all the qualities of its European brethren, and an appealing upper register bite. As I reminisced about the wonderful Lyonnaise potatoes of my “youth” – my first job was in the 70′s at Ferdinand’s, a Harvard Square bastion of classic French – Matt suggested that ramps, those oh-so-everywhere but oh-so-good spring wild onions would be perfect with those slow roasted Lyonaisse potatoes. Smoked chicken would add a nice dimension to the earthiness of the raclette. With potatoes, chicken, sautéed and puréed ramps composed on the plate, Matt topped it all with a long, thin slice of raclette, put it all under a hot broiler for a few seconds until it created a melted veil, and finished it with a splash of cider and chicken roasting jus.

Maine beef sirloin with a Bayley Hazen crust, spring favas and fiddleheads

Andy and Mateo Kehler at Jasper Hill Farm create a medley of amazing cheeses, including Bayley Hazen, one of America’s finest blues. Rich, robust, and creamy, with a dark intensity, it can stand up to and even enhance the full flavors of a hearty steak. My association with beef and blue cheese goes back to the aforementioned Ferdinand’s, where Chef Drey would cut a pocket into Filet Mignon, fill it with Roquefort, grill, and top with bordelaise. I hoped it would be possible to capture some of the flavor elements of that heavy 70′s dish, but with all the light and exuberance of Springtime in Vermont.

Matt’s solution was to create a ragout of fava’s (which Tuscan’s eat each spring with a melt of pecorino), fiddleheads, wild spring onions, Vidalias, and bacon. The Bayley Hazen was crumbled, tossed with a few bread crumbs and a chop of fresh herbs, and pressed onto the Maine sirloin. After a quick grill, this was set aside the ragout, and topped with a frizzle of crisp fried onion.

This was followed by a tasting of 9 of my favorite Vermont cheeses – more on that later.

Cheers,
Louis

Crab Salad Roulade with Carrot Gelee

My sous chef asked me to taste some carrot juice he had just made and asked me, “What do you think about pairing this with crab salad?”  I have to admit, I didn’t really know what to say.  The bright, intensely orange colored liquid was fresh and sweet, the essence of carrot.  I liked it.  I like crab salad.  But, I couldn’t really picture what kind of dish he had in mind.

I had no idea the dish would look like this:

As it turns out, the crab salad roulade with carrot gelee is one of my favorite new dishes off the spring menu.  Not only because it is extremely visually appealing with the white and red-rimmed overlapping discs of radish against the shiny, almost shockingly orange pool of carrot juice, but also because of how the flavors and textures work together as well.  It is a pleasure to make and plate this dish from start to finish everyday.

The Ingredients

Crab Salad Roulade

  • lemon zest
  • orange zest
  • fresh lemon juice
  • red onion brunoise
  • jalapeno pepper
  • minced fine herbs (parsley, chervil)
  • 3-4 Tb aioli
  • salt to taste
  • 1 lb fresh Johah crab meat
  • shaved radish
  • 2 sheets of gelatin
  • 1/4 cup of cream

Initially, I was a little intimidated by how difficult the dish seemed to be, but looks can be deceiving.  As long as you have all the ingredients prepared in advance and ready to go, the crab roulades are actually incredibly simple to make once you’ve mastered the technique.

The Process

Bloom 2 sheets of gelatin in ice water.  Pour the cream into a small pot and set aside.

Drain and press dry 1 lb of fresh Jonah crab meat and gently pick through the meat to make sure there are no shell remnants.  In a large mixing bowl, gently fold in all of the above ingredients (citrus zest, onion, jalapeno, herbs, aioli, salt).  Taste the mixture. The crab salad needs to taste bright and citrusy.  Add more fresh lemon juice and salt if necessary.

Once the crab salad is ready, warm up the cream until it is hot enough to melt the 2 sheets of gelatin.  Do not let the cream boil, since gelatin will become deactivated if it gets too hot.  Fold the gelatin-cream mixture into the crab salad.  Refrigerate to allow the crab salad to set.  Adding gelatin to the crab salad allows you to pipe the mixture into a nice, tight cylinder that will hold its shape without bleeding any of the juices.

In the meantime, prepare the radishes for wrapping the roulade.  Wash radishes thoroughly, trim off both ends and shave into thin coins using a mandolin.  The slices will be about 1.5 millimeters thick…they should not be paper-thin.  Blanch very briefly in salted boiling water (2 seconds) and drain immediately onto a tray lined with paper towels.  Press dry with paper towels.  The radish coins should be pliable but with the red rims bright and intact.  If the radishes are cooked for too long, they red color will bleed into the white part of the radish and the color will fade very quickly.

At this point, the gelatin in the crab mixture should be set.  Transfer the crab mixture into a piping bag and trim the tip til it is a half inch wide.  Spread out a piece of plastic wrap onto your work surface.  Lay out 2 overlapping rows of the radish coins.  Pipe the crab salad mixture.  Lift up the edge of the plastic wrap closest to your body and carefully roll.  Tie off the ends securely to ensure a tight cylinder.

Plating

Slice off both knotted ends of the roulade.  Find the seam of the plastic wrap. Carefully unroll.  Place in the center of the carrot gelee set in the plate.  Garnish with a dollop of creme fraiche, caviar, shaved carrot, micro herbs, edible flowers, and (not pictured) a half of a deep-fried, tempura soft shell crab claw on either end of the roulade.  Served table-side with a drizzle of simple lemon and olive oil vinaigrette.

Romping with the Goats at Valley View Farm

Valley View Farm

Baby goats are a lot like puppies. They are eager and energetic and love everyone they see. And talk about cute! Last week, the team from L’Espalier got to experience the goat-love, as 20 of us visited Liz and Peter Mulholland at their Valley View Farm in Topsfield.

Feeding Baby Goats

I first met Peter and Liz through cheese. Seven or eight years ago, Alberto, one of my reps, sent me a sample of two of their cheeses, a round mixed milk Camembert style called Essex, and a classic goat pyramid called Topsfield. I liked both, and invited the Mulhollands to be guest cheese makers at a December Cheese Tuesday.  As is the norm, I also wrote a song (to the tune of Winter Wonderland) to mark the occasion.

Valley View is home to 38 adult goats. 24 are milking now, having recently given birth, and the rest are still pregnant: Peter and Liz made sure to stagger the pregnancies, which makes life a lot easier around the farm. As soon as they are born, the kids are separated from mom, so she will give her milk to a milking machine instead of a hungry young mouth.  The kids are then bottle fed, just like a human baby, for a couple of weeks, until they can learn to drink by themselves from a nipple attached to a communal bucket of milk. That was going on today with four of the youngsters.

Goats

The goats are all Nubians, a breed developed in England from the crossing of the Old English Mich Goat and bucks imported from India, Russia, and Egypt. They are medium sized, with reddish brown hair and long floppy ears. They love to be petted. Their prize characteristic, however, is the high butterfat content of the milk, averaging 5%.  One of the treats of the visit was a tall, cool glass of raw milk. It was surprisingly rich, much more so than your average glass of cows’ milk, with a clean, sweet finish. Not at all goaty! (In fact, when Peter started making cheese in the mid 90′s, it was so un-goaty that he thought he was doing something wrong. A visit to Judy Schad at Capriole Farm in Indiana, one of America’s greatest cheese makers, set him straight on this.)

Goats Milking

The goats are milked twice a day, and each yield about 3/4 of a gallon of sweet milk each day.  This is immediately transferred to a chilling tank, where it is kept for up to three days before being pasteurized and turned into cheese.  Peter (who makes the cheese; Liz takes care of the goats) uses the slow method of pasteurization, in which the milk is heated to 145 degrees for 30 minutes, and then quickly cooled again. This low heat method, while doing everything the more brutal high heat of industrialized pasteurization does to “protect” us from pathogens, is kinder and gentler to the milk, disturbing it less and preserving more of the enzymes that are so important to flavor in an aged cheese.

Goat's Milk Feta

Peter makes cheese every 3 days. It takes that long to gather enough milk to fill the cheese vat, although he will have to switch to every two days when all his milkers are on line.  He is currently experimenting with making tommes, which are 5 pound dense wheels with natural rinds, meant to be aged several months.  We sampled a December-made wheel. The rind was lightly orange with b-Linens, and the interior paste was fairly smooth and semi-firm, with a few small holes. The flavor was mild, buttery, and fairly sweet, with just enough tanginess to let you know it was a goat’s milk cheese.  The bunch of us ate about half of the tomme. The other half was wrapped to go and will hit the L’Espalier cheese cart tomorrow night.

This wasn’t a cheese making day. Actually, Peter works at his day job by day, and makes cheese at night. I hope to visit one of these sessions soon, and Peter and Liz have promised to join us for a Cheese Tuesday in the fall. I will keep you posted. In the meantime, here is the song I wrote for the Mulhollands last visit to L’Espalier.

Cheers,

Louis Risoli

 

Valley View Cheese Song
(to the tune of Winter Wonderland)

Stomachs growling
Are you listening
I’m so hungry
That I’m wishing
That I could have cheese
So give me some please
Cheese Tuesday is our favorite kind of night

Frank’s food
Is ambitious
Erich’s wines
Are delicious
But Louis’s cheese
Brings us to our knees
Cheese Tuesday is our favorite kind of night

In the Valley you can View some farmers
Milking goats and making lovely cheese
Peter and Elizabeth are charmers
And you can take their cheese home if you please
Soon enough
We’ll be thinking
Of snowy nights
And port for drinking
May your season be bright
Although our singing’s a fright
Cheese Tuesday is our favorite kind of night