After 3 hours yesterday of driving all around the bay area fighting traffic in search of dry ice, I pretty much hit the “Fuck this!” point on this project. I was pissed off that every single step in every single recipe is such an ordeal, and had the realization that of all the things I could be doing on a Saturday morning, sitting in griddlocked traffic on a freeway in south oakland ranked very low on my list of things that would be awesome.
A few minutes later, however, I was standing at Alliance Gas Products being helped by a super-friendly guy who was incredibly helpful in guiding my dry ice purchase (dry ice is sold by the pound; how many pounds, then, do I need to make an antigriddle? I hadn’t paid attention last time), and a nearby customer was peppering me with keen interest about what kind of cooking project I could possibly be working on that demanded what turned out to be 20 pounds of dry ice. That gave me a bit of a push to persevere.
A few weeks back, I flipped open the cookbook and asked Sarah what I should make next. She spied this dish, thought it looked pretty, then asked what the big ball was. “Hmm, something to do with blue cheese, it looks like.” I says to her. She looked at me without saying anything; we both love blue cheese. “Ok then. This is the one”.
Dry ice adventuring aside, the execution of this dish has been one of the most fun and fascinating ones so far. The ‘ball’ is a hollow sphere made of “grape sponge”. A “grape sponge” is what you get when you juice several kg of green grapes by mashing them with your fists in a colander (super fun), mixing the juice with gelatin, and whipping the mixture with a whisk over ice water until it forms this funky foamy, sudsy meringue of sorts. I piped this foam into some hemispherical molds, froze them, cut a hole in the center of each, then fused together corresponding halves using a creme brulee torch to form a hollow spongy sphere.
Once these spheres have been good and frozen, they’re injected just prior to service with walnut milk. Making this was another adventure; I toasted some walnuts, let them steep in milk, blended the mixture, then let it strain until I was left with a powerfully-flavored brownish milk. This step took me two tries, mostly because the Blendtec blender used in the Cucumber aromatics dish previously proved to be TOO MUCH for the walnut mixture. I’m told to puree walnuts and milk for 3 minutes at high speed in a blender; in the Blendtec, this turned the mixture into something like mayonnaise, and letting this pudding strain through cheesecloth overnight only yielded like 5 drops of liquid milk. So I did it again, this time pureeing things just for 30 seconds, which worked perfectly. Blendtec!
After the grape sponges are filled with walnut milk, they’re dipped in walnut oil and rolled in Maytag Blue cheese shavings on an antigriddle. The antigriddle keeps everything nice and chilly, and makes the cheese shavings ‘crispy’ almost (though this doesn’t last to service time).
The accoutrement of this dish include port gelatin chunks, celery seed salt, walnut chunks tossed with homemade grape syrup, and lots of decorative celery shavings, leaves, and microgreens. The microgreen thing I am totally getting into these days. I have a nice sunny window in our kitchen that I’m using to grow my own microgreens for these dishes, which is way easier than I expected it to be. Microgreens are tiny sprouts of various plans; they all tend to look very similar at birth (a tiny stem and a couple of leaves), but they pack a HUGE flavor punch! A tiny single microgreen of rocket packs every bit the amount of punch as a mouthful full-grown leaves.
I’d like to say the flavors here matched the fun in making this dish. When Sarah and I ate it yesterday, though, we had a tough time with it. The blue cheese is very clearly present, but the grape sponge and walnut milk were so delicate that, under temperature, it was hard to pick out their flavors. The same held true for the port chunks. We both liked the walnut chunks the best; the grape syrup on them was delicious, and getting some of the celery and celery salt in the mix was nice. Our San Fran posse is coming over for their first visit to our new apartment today, and I’ve got enough to serve them this dish as well as some Idiazabal, so we’ll see what everyone else thinks.
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Plating looks great, around here Wal-Mart carries dry ice at the front of the store. I used about 5 pounds to make the anti-griddle for the mango soy bonito dish last summer.