Continuing on with the roes, I’m down to one tin left: smoked steelhead roe. It’s a garnish in this dish, both inside and out. The ‘croquette’ here is a crunchy breaded sphere that encases warm molten creme fraiche, cucumber, and smoked roe. It’s wrapped with a candied belgian endive leaf strip, then topped with radish, lime, more smoked roe, red onion, fried caper, chive, sorrel, and parsley.
This dish is a little tricky in that most of it has to be prepared shortly before service. The many garnishes — small lime dice, red onion, the herbs — won’t stand up well to sitting in a bowl all day, much less overnight. The exceptions are the candied endive (cooking some endive leaves gently in simple syrup for an hour or so, then storing them in the candy liquid until ready to plate), and the interior of the croquette itself.
The interior is made by warming some creme fraiche with gelatin, then injecting spherical molds with it. The molds have been filled with small cucumber spheres and steelhead eggs; when cooled, the creme fraiche gels and you get little firm white spheres. These are double-battered in flour, egg, and panko crumbs before being deep-fried.
All of this went relatively well for me until I was preparing to plate things. I was working on this on a weeknight after work, so was shorter on time and moving a little more quickly than usual. I’d prepared all of the garnishes, and was heating oil to deep-fry the spheres. A slotted spoon with a metal handle was sitting in a spoon rest next to the oil. At one point the spoon’s handle shifted and fell over near the burner flame. Without noticing or thinking, I grabbed the spoon to dip some spheres into the oil. I heard a little sizzle and felt a pretty sharp pain; I’d burned my fingers and hand pretty badly.
It’s amazing how unimpressive this photo looks to me. This hurt like hell. I had a few moments of zen and wonderment, even; the throbbing in my thumb was so bad I could feel it in my shoulders.
After swearing a little and grabbing an ice pack, I realized I had everything ready but only one hand to work with. I forged ahead anyway. Part of what makes this dish so pretty is that it’s very tidy, and I had a hard time neatly wrapping the spheres with the endive leaves with just one hand. So too was photographing everything (which is why I’m a little short on auxiliary photos here).
Sloppiness and pain aside though, most was forgiven when I ate all three of these (and three more afterwards. Yup). This thing is crazy delicious! I’ve said it before, but these dishes rank among my favorites to make and eat. The spheres are about the diameter of a quarter, so the whole thing is one tiny bite that packs an incredibly powerful punch. The outer shell is crispy and light, and the filing inside oozes out luxuriously when you bite into it. The tangy creme fraiche and the salty smoky roe meld together into a really wonderful flavor; it’s not entirely dissimilar from biting into a warm, freshly-toasted bagel that’s been smeared with cream cheese and has smoked salmon on it. In fact, I guess most of the garnishes here wouldn’t be out of place on a nice Bagels and Lox platter.
The interior is accented fascinatingly by the endive, which is sweet and bitter at once. As you roll the bite around, chewing it and exploring the flavors, you can taste at moments the lime dice, the onion, the parsley…they’re there one moment and gone the next. The whole thing is delicious and a little dizzying in its complexity.
Oftentimes these ‘one-bite’ dishes meld together so well that it’s hard to pick apart the flavors. That’s less-so the case with this one, though the flavors all work together so very well that it’s hard to taste them purely atomically. Studying the flavors as you eat it is rewarding when you figure out what the bitter note is or where that sharp sourness is coming from. It’s frustrating to keep saying “This one is one of my favorites” because I realize how boring and silly that sounds…but this one is one of my favorites. It’s amazing.
And almost worth not being able to use my hand much today.