In like Flynn.
I’ve been working at a pretty even pace today, cooking and then cleaning our house for guests alternatively. The two main things I needed to complete were the Gin-Compressed Rhubarb and the Rhubarb Sponge. The Gin-Compressed, which I thought would be easy, turned out to be pretty tricky. FoodSavers don’t really deal well with liquid in vacuum bags; a lesson I learned sorely on this dish. They suck up the moisture because of the way the bags are built, and then either short out or (in the case of mine) just shut off because it was aware that it wasn’t maintaining suction. So I tried to ‘trick’ the vacuum by putting some paper towels in the bag. My idea was that the paper would block the fluid long enough for the machine to get some suction going, then prematurely seal the bag. This didn’t really work all the way; the bag ended up sealing ok, and it was ostensibly vacuumed, but I don’t think the pressure was nearly enough for this application. The rhubarb is supposed to he compressed whole with the gin liquid, and even after letting it sit for two hours, it had only penetrated either end of the rhubarb by about 0.25″. Worried, I cut the rhubarb up into the 1/2″ pieces the recipe tells me to, then re-sealed the chunks in the liquid, where I’ve been letting it sit all day. This worked eventually, but only barely.
Everything else, though, turned out pretty great! The sponge bit was particularly fascinating. I’m meant to whip some rhubarb juice and gelatin until “stiff peaks form”. I learned that stiff peaks form long before the point at which I think they’ve formed. If you overmix things, you end up with something that resembles the jell-o salads my mom used to make back in the day, which is to say ‘you get something much thicker that it’s supposed to be”. I tried remelting the gelatin and re-whipping it, and this worked like a charm. I didn’t know gelatin was thermoreversible, but apparently it is!
The dish is arranged (I think) in a heavy-to-light order, sort of like a meal within a meal. The first bit on the left is the rhubarb juice with a beet sphere in it. What the photo doesn’t convey is that the beet sphere is hot, and the rhubarb juice is cold. We found the rhubarb juice to be quite ‘tannin-y’ as well, which the beet juice cut through brilliantly. It was delicious.
The beet spheres are so damn beautiful that I actually paused to take a photo of one of them on its own:
Next is the dried rhubarb with black pepper. I loved the smell of this as it was dehydrating in our apartment. It ended up too crispy for me to roll into a conical shape as the recipe instructed, but I didn’t care. The texture of this stuff was beautiful; it looked like some sort of artisan paper.
Here’s my Gin Compressed rhubarb. The rhubarb in this component is uncooked, so it’s quite crunchy and crisp, which I liked. And I love gin, so the flavors here were brilliant for me.
This is the rhubarb sponge served on a bay leaf, topped with grapefruit segments. It was interesting to my friends and I how significant a role the grapefruit packets played in this. They are immediately recognizable and play off the bay well. I liked biting the bay as I scraped the foam off with my teeth, to try to get some of its aromatics going as I was tasting it.
Next up is rhubarb custard with lavendar-paoached rhubarb and lavender pudding. This might have been my favorite. It’s delicate and beautiful, with a gentle texture in the mouth. My friend Jess called this one “orgasmic”, which I reckon means it was pretty successful.
The Oatmeal Streusel topped with rhubarb sorbet was Sarah’s favorite. Flavorfully, it was beautiful, though the streusel was still fairly grainy to me. I think it worked fine for everyone else though.
And finally here’s the rhubarb gelee with fennel candy and green tea nage. This one was a tie for my favorite as well; the fennel and rhubar as a flavor pairing was surprisingly awesome, and the green tea foam really turned it into something special. It was a parade of flavors, evolving constantly as I held it in my mouth. Really special.
I plated 6 more of these for my friends after they got here, and they all seemed to really enjoy it. It played nicely with some wine that Joe brought. After we ate everything properly, I brought out all the ingredients and everyone played with combining everything in various ways. We had a Beet Sphere making lesson too.
In the end, the payoff of investing the nearly 40 hours that I did in making this was twofold; it feels awesome to have made it fairly successfully, but more awesome to get to share it with friends.
Kris likes the look of a Chestnut dish, and fall is fast on its way, so maybe that’s what direction I’ll be looking in next…