Sunday, December 23, 2012

Agar agar part 1 - Pearls and Beads

The story starts one day a few years ago.   At the time, I was working as a Pastry Chef.   My Chef mentioned to me that I should reconsider using Gelatin in my desserts.   The fact that it is an animal product is a little bit creepy and having to tell vegetarian (or kosher) guests that they cannot enjoy a particular dessert or dessert element tends to give one pause. He recommended that I use Agar Agar.  I was never the same after that...

I spent years trying to eliminate the need for gelatin in everything - mousses, gelees, Panna cottas, marshmallows, gummy candies, espumas, etc. I was all about Agar Agar. I came pretty close to making a complete conversion.

In the end, it's hard to argue with gelatin's uniquely pleasant tender elasticity, I do love it. I now use either Agar or gelatin depending on the value of either product in the current application.

One application that must be made with Agar Agar is cold oil beads/pearls.  This technique is achieved by dripping a solution which contains melted Agar along with the flavor base - juice, puree, syrup, vinegar, etc.  The droplets are made into oil, which keeps the gelling liquid separated into individual drops.  We keep the oil chilled so that by the time the liquid reaches the bottom, it has set into a perfectly shaped gelee.

I always use thread Agar Agar.  (In my next post, I will be explaining more about the history and process of creation of Agar Agar)  It seems very trendy and common to use powdered Agar, but for me the powder is expensive, difficult to control and less consistent in strength.  In order to use the thread Agar, one must soak it in water for up to (ideally) an hour.  At the restaurant, we always keep a package of agar held in water in the refrigerator so its always ready.

Lemon Crème Fraîche "Pearls"

15g Agar Agar, soaked and drained
150g Water
115g Creme Fraiche
35g Lemon Juice
Salt, TT

- Several hours before you begin, start by freezing a neutral oil (grapeseed, canola, vegetable) in a tall narrow (preferably clear) container.
- When the oil is well chilled, begin by boiling the water and Agar by themselves over medium-high heat, whisking twice.
- When the Agar is fully dissolved, turn off the heat, and add the Lemon Juice and Crème Fraîche  whisking until smooth and seasoning with Salt(note, acid will prevent the Agar from gelling correctly, if it is brought to a boil, so it must be added only once the heat has been turned off)
- Transfer to a squeeze bottle.
- Remove container of oil from freezer and drip solid droplets, one at a time, trying to utilize the entire surface of the oil.
- When all of the gel has been formed, strain oil off, reserve for another use and store pearls in refrigerator until ready to use.

At the restaurant, we use the pearls to garnish our Linguini with Clam Sauce.  We like to bring foods to life in a natural way and being able to serve edible pearls is a way to do this.

This recipe can easily be modified for any flavor or other application.  One need only replace the Lemon Juice and Creme Fraiche with 150g of any other liquid.  The following is a Pomegranate jelly bead from our Tart dessert.

(above, Pastry Chef Yoomi drips her Pomegranate gelee beads, made with Pomegranate Juice)

Now that I've got you on the edge of your seat, more on Agar Agar to come, its going to be Sick!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Paneer/Ricotta part 2

In an attempt to continue our demonstration of the various possibilities available in using pressed Ricotta or Paneer (see previous article), we're going to now demonstrate the Ricotta cutlet.  For this execution, one needn't pre-fry the Paneer as in the stewed preparations, because it will be fried in its final step anyways.

Shallow-Fried, Panko - Crusted Ricotta

1 lbs. block Paneer (see previous Blogpost)
3 ea Eggs, whole, beaten
1 lbs. All-Purpose Flour
1 lbs Panko Breadcrumbs
2 c Grapeseed Oil, or as needed
Finishing Salt, as needed.

(Note: That typical fried cheese that you're picturing is a completely different animal.  Breaded Mozzarella is elastic, fatty and delicious in its own way.  Shallow-fried Paneer is more firm and high in protein, making it more like a vegetarian chicken or tofu cutlet.)

Our Paneer "Blocks" are shaped nicely, since we use a cheese press.
Rougher, organic shapes are lovely as well, like snowflakes.

- First, take the block of Paneer and slice into cutlets.
- Dredge Paneer cutlets in All-Purpose flour, tap off all excess.
- Coat in beaten Eggs
- Finish by dredging in Panko Breadcrumbs.
- Shallow-fry in 1/2 inch of Grapeseed Oil, turning to brown evenly.

-Place on paper towels to drain oil, sprinkle with finishing salt.
- Serve as desired.

At, Le Cigare Volant, we currently serve our Breaded Ricotta with Blistered Chard, Butternut Squash Gnocchi, and Carrot/Pumpkin Puree.  The flavor accents come from a compote we call Apple Agrodolce, which is an Italian sweet and sour sauce.  We draw a line of Parmesan Puree on the dish in front of the guest.  This puree is sharp, tangy and bright with acidity and salt, allowing us to accent all of the rich flavors in the dish.  By drawing the line, we force the guest to pull the food through the condiment, creating a very interesting, slow, and complex flavor release.

How sick does that sound?!?

Paneer/Ricotta part 1

Tomato-Braised Ricotta (Paneer) with Zucchini Noodles and Salsa Verde
When we first developed the menu at Le Cigare Volant, we wanted a Vegetarian Entree Option with a strong, meat-like protein component...something with the character of a cutlet, fillet or steak, etc.  At first we ran tofu, but it was generally felt that serving tofu for our entree was just perpetuating the Santa Cruz earthy-crunchy-tofu-brown-rice stereotype.  Digging deeper in my memory for another option, I was reminded of that super delicious protein alternative - Paneer.  I had worked for 6 months at an Indian Restaurant in Irvine, CA called Chakra and we made and used Paneer to great effect.  Quite like tofu, but at the same time completely different, I knew Paneer would give us the results we were looking for.

To make Paneer, one simply makes ricotta and then presses it.  Here is an extremely simple recipe:


1 gallon Whole Milk
1 oz Distilled Vinegar, or as-needed
1 quart Grapeseed Oil, or as-needed

- Bring Milk to a simmer over medium heat in a non-reactive saucepan.
- Turn off heat and add Distilled Vinegar one capful at a time until solids begin to separate and clear whey becomes visible.

- Pour curds into a strainer lined with cheesecloth or a thin tea towel or clean dishcloth.
 (Now  you have ricotta.  Easy, wasn't it?)

- Wrap curds and press over roasting rack or perforated pan in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours.

- Paneer is now ready to be breaded and fried, crumbled, or any other application.

 - For stewed, paneer, dice pressed paneer and shallow fry (or deep fry) until golden in 375 degree oil before simmering in curry, tomato sauce, etc.

We are currently developing a Garlic Cream- Braise for the Ricotta.  Chartreuse notes finish sauteed Spinach and Wild Rice.

Should be Sick...

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Duck Mole Enchiladas

A while back, we had an idea to make a pasta "al forno" with duck meat sauce appetizer.  Demoing it by mistake with a chipotle sauce, we decided to skip pasta and make enchiladas!  The initial difficulty lay in making tortillas, which none of us had done previously.  We knew we wanted a semi-perfect cigar shape, so we tried making "pasta-tillas" because we did know how to make pasta.  It was really rubbery and hard to make and kind of.....odd.  Our next inspiration became "crepe-tillas" which are awesome!

This is a recipe for crepetilla batter:

1 ½ cup Masa Harina
½ cup Flour
4 ea Eggs
Milk, as needed
Salt, TT
- Whisk all ingredients to thin, creamy consistency.

Once we had our wrapper, the next difficulty lay in developing a filling.  We knew we wanted to utilize the awesome shelling beans which were coming from our farm at the time.  We developed a chunky bean and cheese filling for the enchiladas, which tasted great.  When we baked it, however, they flattened out and looked sloppy.  So we had to come up with a system that has been pretty foolproof, if a bit complex.  Here it is:

First we shuck all the beans from their husks.  This must be done by as many people as possible simultaneously, otherwise it takes forever.


These beans are called "Dragon's Tongue" cool, right?  The taste is pretty comparable to an average white bean. They come from our farm, called Popelouchum in San Juan Bautista.

The beans are then simmered until very tender and buttery.  We keep the flavor simple and use only salted water.

Then we pass the beans through a metal sieve called a tamis.  This allows us to determine how smooth our beans will be and removes the undesired skins.

 We then add shredded mozzarella, salt, and melted seaweed starch called Agar Agar.  Agar has the advantage of melting only at extremely high temperatures.  This way, when the cheese is melty and gooey in the enchiladas, the bean puree will still be fudgy and cake-like.

Above, Sous Chef Chris prepares special PVC pipes with Acetate paper and pipes the bean puree inside the tubes.

"Keep it Simple" - One pauses to appreciate the irony.

Once the bean mixture has cooled, we remove it from the pipes with a wooden dowel.  Here they are looking extremely uniform.  Awesome!

Next we cut the bean tubes into sections, lay them out next to "Crepetillas" painted with duck mole and roll up. Now there's our perfect cigar-shaped duck enchilada roll!

The duck Mole is made from simmered duck legs, mixed with dried and fresh peppers, spices and chocolate. On the side, we serve a small salad of Figs, Arugula, Orange Segments, some crispy Tortillas and Queso Fresco.