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Corn, Coconut, Cayenne, Mint

By June 24, 2011Cooking

Two sorbets, one of coconut and another of buttered corn, are fused together and cut down into small bite-sized portions. The portions are garnished with cayenne powder, a flake of sea salt, lime zest, and a dot of mint puree. This dish had a small and unexpected bit of nostalgia for me; my dad loves coconut and my mom always gets excited for sweet corn on the cob to come into season in the summer, so a bite of this reminded me of summer in Kentucky with my parents. The super-duper humid air and 110-degree days, my teenage years as a lifeguard at our family lake and later at our city pool, and eating dinner on our front porch after helping dad on the farm all came swimming back as I rolled the flavors around in my mouth.

We’ve had a deluge of visitors and travel recently, so I picked this dish to try next because it seemed doable in parts and reasonably uncomplicated. All told I put it together in a few hours scattered over several days. The first bit I made was the mint puree; this is made by blanching a sizable amount of mint, then blending it with ice water and Ultra-Tex 3 until it thickens into a puddingy consistency. The ‘blending with ice water’ step is vital because every little bit the blanched mint heats up, it loses its bright green color and vitality, so it’s a bit delicate to work with. I took a photo of the mount of mint that went into making that small droplet…seriously guys, it’s a shitload of mint.

The cookbook lists usage of 3g of Ultra-Tex as a thickener to a mint puree mixture, which does not yield the requisite puddingy texture. I flipped through some similar recipes in the book and found much higher proportions of ultra-tex, so I just threw my mint puree back in the blender and added more ultra-tex until it thickened up. Super-easy. I ended up using a grand total of about 15g, and that worked pretty great.

The coconut sorbet is made from young coconut juice and meat; the recipe also calls for freeze-dried coconut powder. After a lot of searching, I couldn’t find this anywhere. The few sites that list it all said they were out because their supplier no longer offered it. One helpful representative told me they switched to unsweetened coconut powder (which is dehydrated, not freeze-dried) because they felt it was a superior, truer product (apparently the freeze-dried stuff had been sweetened). So I made the executive decision to try using unsweetened finely-ground coconut powder, which I found at Whole Foods.

Both sorbets use sorbet stabilizer; specifically, another Louis Francois stabilizer which isn’t available in the US. I replaced it with L’epicerie’s Stabi Sorbet, which advises a usage of 3-5g per litre of sorbet–this ratio seemed inexact to me because it doesn’t account for the density of the sorbet. I don’t really have my head all the way wrapped around using stabilizers in ice creams just yet, and the variation in ingredients I was using made me suspect this was going to end up being a learning experience. Because  the coconut powder is dehydrated, it acts a little like a sponge when you throw it into a pot of coconut juice and meat. I figured the mixture wasn’t liquid enough for the stabilizer to work properly, so I tried compensating for this by adding more coconut juice. Basically I figured a hydrocolloid’s measurements are aimed at mixtures that are more water than not, so I needed to get a super-coconutty-flavored liquid mixture to which I could add the stabilizer.  I started at the lower end of the range, adding 3g of stabilizer to a scant litre of coconut ‘stuff’. The stabilizer makes the mixture thicken up when cooled in the fridge to something similar to a thin mayonnaise, which seemed reasonable. When I churned it in my ice cream maker it formed a lovely smooth frozen paste. Obviously I can’t be certain that I nailed Alinea’s original flavor profile or texture, but I did end up with a stable, extremely coconutty sorbet. I think in the future I might try reducing the stabilizer; I don’t have enough experience with it yet to recognize what’s ‘too much’, but I also think sorbets might oughta be a little ‘grittier’ than what I ended up with. You can see, though, that the stabilizer helps the final portions hold their shape when they warm a bit; this photo was at the tail end of my shooting session, and it’d warmed enough that you can see how it looks wet, but is still holding its shape and isn’t gooping or dripping all over the service piece.

Once the coconut sorbet had been spread into the bottom of a brownie pan, I made the corn sorbet. Making this was fun and amusing to me; you basically juice a shitload of corn, cook it with some butter and sugar, add your stabilizer and toss it all in an ice cream mixer, and you get something that tastes incredibly powerfully of summertime. It’s savory and luxurious and rich and delicious. Juicing corn is also crazy messy…corn kernel bits were flying everywhere and Sarah found a few stuck to the ceiling afterwards.

That’s pretty much it! This was one of the more simple and straightforward recipes I’ve made in a while; it’s fun and delicious. My garden is starting to bear fruit and my herbs are getting to be the right size for me to try tackling some of the more involved Summer dishes coming up…

 

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