Hey guys, what’s cooler than finishing an Alinea recipe over the weekend?
Well, yeah, maybe the feeling associated with making it to the ending credits of The Expendables. But that’s not what I was going to say. I was gonna say “finishing TWO recipes!”
When Sarah and I ate at Alinea the first time, one of my favorite courses was called “Lobster, Puffed and seasoned with pollen”. It was sort of like a big crackery thing that tasted like lobster; it was totally amazing. I wonder if this recipe was a precursor to this lobster cracker, because it’s pretty easy to guess where the idea for this came from. It’s basically a super-fancy Chee-toe.
Idiazábal, as I’ve learned, is a Spanish cheese hailing from the Basque region. I kept my eyes peeled for this in New Zealand for a year and a half, but never could find it anywhere. A few weeks back, Sarah’s sister Ruth was visiting, and wanted to visit a place her workmate recommended, named “The Cheese Board” in Berkeley. I had no idea what this place was before we went. It’s basically cheese heaven.
There’s a gigantic chalkboard on the wall of this place, with hundreds of cheeses listed. Like the dork I am, I was actually carrying my Alinea cookbook with me when we were at this place (I’m wont to carry it around on adventures, because sometimes I find ingredients that tell me what my next recipe is going to be). Sure enough on the list was Idiazábal, along with Maytag Blue, which is another specific cheese that’s called for in a different recipe. I was so excited, I bought a chunk of both of these right on the spot.
I don’t really consider myself ‘good’ at cheese, but idiazábal is pretty easy for me to distinguish. It’s hard, sort of like Parmesan, and has a smoky flavor to it, despite it not being a smoked cheese. It reminded me a bit of some generic cheddar we had in New Zealand in the bulk dairy section of New World. Maybe saying that makes me a cheese heretic, I dunno.
Once I’d found this magical cheese, the rest of the ingredients came quickly. Alinea clearly has a solid relationship with Blis, whose ingredients are used very frequently in the book. This recipe calls for “Blis Maple Syrup”. Awesomely, there is no simple maple syrup on Blis’ website; my choices are “Tahitian Vanilla” and…wait for it…
Yes, it is awesome.
A few days ago, Cooking Issues linked to a post they wrote about making puffed snacks. I’m glad I got a chance to read this article before getting into this recipe; understanding exactly what was happening and why I was doing what I was doing here was extremely empowering.
The idea here is to mix grated idiazábal with some flour and water to make a cheesy dough, which is cooked, dehydrated, and then fried until it puffs up. It’s then brushed with maple syrup and seasoned with maple sugar and smoked salt, then dusted with more cheese and toasted lightly. A chee-toe on steroids.
Like most things form this book, I had to make it twice to get it right. The recipe instructed me to roll the cheesy dough out to 1/8″ before cooking it, but I found the cooking process causes the dough to swell in thickness by about 200%. Trying to dehydrate something that thick with as much oil as is present from the incorporation of cheese proved to simply not work. The outside of the ‘cheese noodle’ crisps up, but the inside stays tightly gummy. When this is fried, the outside puffs, but the inside turns into something like an overcooked microwaveable mozarella stick. It’s tasty I suppose, but ultimately not the desired outcome.
So the second time I made it I rolled the dough out as thin as possible, then over-dehydrated it until it felt a little like a shrinky-dink (I ended up dehydrating it for about twice the time the book recommended, and periodically stabbed it with a knife to allow inner moisture some crevices through which to escape). When I fried this second one, it worked like a charm.
Sarah says this is one of her favorite things I’ve made so far. The puffy crisp is a bit like a smoky parmesanny pork rind, and the melted cheese and toasted maple and salt atop it keep it balanced. Best of all, I was super-excited that I actually knew how to fix things here when they went slightly wrong!