A 5.5-hour full tasting dinner at Alinea, including wine pairings, is enough to blur even the best memory retention. It’s a dizzying surfeit of tricks and oddities and wine. When I ate there several years ago, I only walked away having a firm memory of about half of what all I’d enjoyed. This dish, though, even after several years, remains crisp in my head. It was my favorite course at Alinea.
I’m a carnivore through and through, and I knew what Wagyu was at the time I had it, so already the odds were stacked in my favor. It was paired with what also was my favorite wine of the evening; a glass of Tommaso Bussola Valpolicella Classico Superiore. Incidentally, I’ve not yet been able to find a bottle of this amazing wine anywhere, which I kinda like; if I tasted it again I’m sure it wouldn’t be nearly as amazing as when I had it the first time.
Shortly after our dinner at Alinea in Chicago, I went to visit Sarah when she was living in New York. We went shopping one day, and in a Williams-Sonoma I found a jar of pink peppercorns. It was the first time I’d seen them for sale, and I recognized them from the Waygu dish, so I bought some. I thought “Maybe I can figure out how to make that dish.” This was all in 2006; so these pink peppercorns have been waiting patiently for 4 years to reach their full potential. I’m not sure if that’s gross or cool; though I haven’t found pink peppercorns anywhere in New Zealand so I stand by my purchase.
This was the first time I’ve used my sous vide equipment for a meat dish in this book. I’ve been practicing a lot with it, and am pretty confident with it. I’ve made several steaks for Sarah and I cooked en sous vide, and also made some white bean paste one night with it, along with the horseradish spheres from a previous dish. It works pretty nicely, though it’s a bit sloppy, with cords hanging everywhere.
I’ve learned a bit more about Wagyu in preparing to make this. It’s just been within the past year that Wagyu has become available to consumers in NZ, and while it’s cool that we have some options, we don’t have too terribly many. Moore Wilson’s sells Wagyu from two producers, and those two offer limited cuts and grades. So, for the purposes of this dish, I just kinda tried to do the best I could with what I had. “Kuroge” refers to the breed of cattle being intended for use here; neither of the NZ producers mention what breed they raise, so I’m not sure this was actually Kuroge wagyu or if it was just a NZ breed raised in ‘wagyu style’. The marbling exhibited by the wagyu is distinctive but not overwhelming. The best Wagyu I’ve had in NZ actually was some teppanyaki sold by Meat On Tory, which has since shut down unfortunately. I wish I knew where they were getting it.
The other ingredients used here don’t even try to compete with the beef once assembled, though they each compliment it wonderfully. The wagyu is placed on a bed of honeydew melon slices, and topped with a sliver of cucumber ribbon. Atop this is a strip of soy pudding, pink peppercorns, micro cilantro, and lime sugar.
The actual execution here was surprisingly simple. This is probably because I’ve made the lime sugar before (took me a few tries, but it was one of the first things I made from the book last year), and I think I’ve got puddings down pat. You can see in the photo above, though, a bit of graininess in my soy pudding. This is because my blender sucks and can’t actually blend the solidified soy without forming an air pocket and spinning idly, so I have to pass the gelee soy through a chinois a few times to get it to a puddinglike consistency. Tastes great though.
After I’d assembled it all, I almost didn’t want to eat it. I mean, this was my favorite dish at Alinea, which puts it in the running for my favorite dish of all time (along with my grandmother’s spareribs, and Fruity Pebbles). Eating a homemade copy of it would surely pollute this pristine memory, wouldn’t it?
Nope. It was awesome all over again. The slight disappointment I had in the quality of the wagyu was completely overwhelmed by the combination of coriander, lime sugar, and soy. The melon and cucumber add a cool, refreshing note to the bite, though their experience is more a textural one than a taste one. The fun part about doing this is that I usually make a serving for Sarah and I to try first, then make a third dish to photograph. Which means I get to eat two portions. Win.