Monday, December 16, 2013

Ceviche Mixto - Frozen Coconut Shell

At Palo Alto Grill, we put a fun and interesting twist on Ceviche.  We use liquid nitrogen to freeze a dome of coconut milk, which we fill with the lime marinated seafood, allowing the diner to crack their way in.  The "Mixto" which we use in our ceviche is a combination of tilapia, shrimp, scallops and squid, because I enjoy the way all the different textures combine and contrast.

1/2 pound tilapia, cubed 3/4"
1/2 pound baby shrimp, raw
1/2 pound squid, cleaned and quickly sauteed
1/2 pound bay scallops
1 ea red onion, fine dice
3 ea jalapenos, fine dice
1 bunch basil, chopped
1 Tbs garlic, minced
1 1/2 cup lime juice
1/2 cup orange juice
Salt, TT

(note, the squid must be pre-sauteed or it becomes very rubbery in ceviche)
- Simply combine all the seafood and chopped aromatics with citrus juice in a bowl.
- Place plastic wrap directly on top to completely submerge and allow to marinate, refrigerated until shrimp turn pink and fish turns opaque.

Translucent fish before
Opaque fish after

Translucent blue shrimp before
Opaque pink shrimp after

The mix that we use for coconut sorbet is coconut milk, sweetened to taste.  If you would like to try this recipe, but are unable to obtain liquid nitrogen, feel free to drizzle this mix over your ceviche, freeze in a mold and scrape like a granite or freeze into sorbet and top with a scoop, it would be delicious in any of these applications.

The liquid nitrogen gets the ladle very cold 
(don't lick it)

Allow the condensation in the air to form a thin layer of frost, then dip it into the coconut milk, allowing it a few seconds to build up thickness.

After the coconut shell has frozen, apply gentle but constant pressure to the base of the dome until it releases from the ladle.  It should be surprisingly easy.  If not, clean the ladle and try again.

We serve our ceviche tucked inside its coconut shell, topped with lemongrass and accompanied by taro chips.

Really cool beans.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Char-Grilled Octopus

This blog was originally put together as a way to answer the question "how do they do that?"  One of the most common instances of this question for me here at Palo Alto Grill is the Char-Grilled Octopus.  Most people are familiar with octopus in a sushi context.  It is rubbery, flavorless, and mostly enjoyable in a novelty context.

Our octopus is prepared in a more Mediterranean style.  It is cooked a total of 3 times over several hours in order to give it its delicate barely spongy texture.

 I often say that octopus is one of those things that when its cooked perfectly its a real delicacy, but when its cooked almost perfectly...its garbage.  Thus, it must be prepared just so.

When we receive our octopus, it comes tentacles only.  We find the tentacles cook more evenly and the skin tears and falls away less often.  From the picture it looks as though the tentacles are still squirming.  However, while some restaurants receive (and even serve) octopus still wriggling, they arrive at Palo Alto Grill fresh, but fortunately dead.

The first step in preparing our octopus is to blanch them in boiling water.  Octopus muscles are full of collagen and they release a lot of gelatin, which if not drawn out from the muscles can leave the octopus rubbery and gelatinous.  Use more water than you need to draw out as much of the excess gelatin as possible.

We are going to be confitting the octopus in olive oil, which creates a very concentrated water-soluble context.  If we don't remove this gelatin now, then after the cook in oil, the octopus will be tightly bound in a dense layer of purple goo.

As the octopus enters the water, the tentacles curl up right away, which can be kind of fun.  Cook them in the water until they float.

Remove the octopus from the water and discard.
You should be able to see how much thicker, purple and gelatinous the water has become.

At this point, simmer the Octopus in olive oil over very very low heat.  This process can be done on the stove or in the oven.  If done on the stove, set flame to lowest setting; if done in the oven, set at 325F.  Make sure to use enough olive oil to cover.  (Note: this uses a lot of olive oil.  After, you may want to save the oil for something specific, but it should be refrigerated and will have a slight octopus flavor.)

Confit octopus for about 3 hours.  It may shrink considerably during cooking.  To test for doneness, slice off a piece and see how chewy it is, or use a small knife and see if it goes in and out of the octopus easily.

If you will be serving the octopus at a later time, store it in the oil under refrigeration until ready to serve.

At this point, the skin on the octopus will be loose, and the best way to turn this gooey stickiness into delicious crispiness is to char it on the grill.  Don't be afraid to allow the octopus to blacken rather heavily, the crispy exterior will contrast nicely with the very slightly chewy interior.

The texture of octopus contrasts brilliantly with sauteed potatoes, its a match made in heaven like peanut butter and jelly.  We add a bit of chopped garlic and sliced preserved lemon.  The preserved lemon skin adds a nice salty acidic kick.

The dish is finished with chopped basil and basil oil

Most people are very surprised at the texture.  It is almost crisp on the outside and very tender throughout.  The flavor of octopus is barely ocean-y, quite ham-like.  An easy try for people who aren't big seafood eaters.

Cool beans

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Fried Brussels Sprouts, Brown Sugar Butter-Pecan

Fried Brussels Sprouts, Brown Sugar, Butter Pecan.  That was the description we came up with months before opening Palo Alto Grill.  When it came to cooking the dish for the first time, we started a reduction of apple juice and maple and from the very first time we tried it drizzled over the crispy sprouts, it was perfect.  One almost never gets a dish perfect the first time, but this dish was the exception to the rule.  Then we re-read the description and realized it was supposed to have been with brown sugar!  We didn't even have any in the pantry at the restaurant, and I have no idea where I ever thought I would be putting butter in the dish.  So we kept it the way it is, and didn't change the description.  Sounds good, tastes good...if it ain't broke- don't fix it.

A few people have contacted me asking to see a recipe for this dish in my blog.  I would never have normally thought to try and blog this dish, as it is fairly restaurant-y and hard to recreate at home.  It is also somewhat decadent.  Often, for some people, preparation of decadent dishes is better "behind the scenes" to minimize guilt.  You've been warned, folks.  Here goes:

Look, something healthy, an Apple!  See?  How bad can a recipe be that begins with apples.  We juice our own apples at Palo Alto Grill, but if its easier for you, you can just buy apple juice.

The amount of apples you juice is up to you.
We make large batches of syrup, but for home cooking, you may just want to juice 3-4 apples, or start with 1 cup of Apple Juice.

We weigh the Apple Juice and then add the exact weight in Maple Syrup also.  If you'd like to just match volumes, that's fine: a cup for a cup.

We start the juice and maple on the stove.  If you make your own, it may be a bit frothy, that's ok.  It will cook off.  Simmer your syrup until it's reduced by at least half.

When its reduced by half, it should look like this ---->

We like to take the guesswork out of cooking as much as possible, so we check to make sure it is reduced to a specific level of sweetness every time.  We use a tool for this called a refractometer.

This is a refractometer.  It looks a lot like a lightsaber.  What it does is direct light across a prism and onto a readout that one can see by looking into the lens.  This shows how concentrated a sugar syrup is.

Inside, we see a display like this ->

The reduced syrup is dripped onto the prism.

Here, Chef de Partie, Matt checks to see the concentration of maple and apple sugars.  We aim for 60-65 Brix or 60-65% sugar.

If you don't have a refractometer, don't worry.  Just reduce your syrup a little over half and check the thickness at room temperature.  It should be a little thicker than maple syrup, but not as thick as honey.

To prepare the Brussels Sprouts, they need to be cored and quartered thusly:

The last item of prep for this dish is fried pecans (or baked pecans, if that's more convenient for you)

Just hold the pecans in a strainer over hot oil until they start to turn golden.  This is much quicker and more consistent than baking.

Drain the excess oil on a paper towel.

The last thing you will need to finish this dish is a really nice, good quality sea salt or fleur de sel.  Regular salt would not work, as it may dissolve, and instead of crispy salty accents, you would just have salinity.  Not as nice.

Ok, here goes nothin...

Take your brussels quarters and place them in a fryer basket.  Drop it into 375 degree oil and stand back!  These puppies are poppers.  Fry for about 45 seconds to 1 minute or until they are mostly browned, with very little green left.

Here's what you should have when you're done. Make sure to shake the basket carefully and remove all excess oil.

We made a little video of the process so you could see what it looks like.  The splatter as the brussels first hit the hot oil is very apparent.

Drizzle the brussels with the apple/maple reduction.

Sprinkle in the toasted pecans and stir.

Rain the perfect amount of salt over the brussels.

Pour into mini cauldrons or other serving vessels.

Top with a bit more toasted Pecans


Here's another little video showing the process of finishing the pecans

This happy little accident has done quite well for us.  It is the #1 selling dish at Palo Alto Grill and since our opening in April, we've almost sold 1,000.  They are not to be missed.

Cool beans.