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Still working on the chestnut dish.  I’m glad to be doing this, despite feeling a little daunted by it.  I’ve gotten a sense of confidence from being able to move through the cookbook at a fairly good clip, so much so that I’ve overlooked the fact that I’m following recipes, not inventing them.  It’s given me a renewed admiration and appreciation for the chefs at Alinea (and indeed, chefs everywhere) who can pair flavors adeptly and balance a dish exactly. I’m not confident that’s what I’m doing here, but I’ll keep trying.

So. I remade my chestnut paste first of all; this time I used no salt or bay, which cut down on the ‘chickenyness’ a bit, but not entirely. I think warm chestnut just has an odd roasty chickeny flavor. I admit I don’t especially love it, which is making it tough to work with. I pushed it to be decidedly sweet; this works well with it.

I went and bought some more Belgian beers. I’m learning a bit about them; Tripels are white ales, or blonde, crisp, sweet beers. Dubbels are malty, darker, more molassesy, heavier. I’m fairly certain a dubbel is what I want. Sarah’s favorite belgian beer at Leuven in Wellington was Westmalle; mine was the not-dissimilar Leffe Bruin, which I can’t find around here. I was excited to also find a Belgian-style dubbel by Abita. Abita is brewed near New Orleans; their amber beer was introduced to me by my sister when she lived there while going to med school. I was excited to try both of these, and knew I’d be happy if either ended up working well with the chestnut.

I also tried to put some thought into texture and the final presentation of this dish. I wanted to try the idea of bacon powdered, so I made some. “Powdered Bacon” is the search phrase that most-often leads people to this website; I find this incredibly curious. Was this what you hoped to find when you did this search?

The bacon powder I ended up with was based not on a cooking technique, but on a dehydration technique. I found this resulted in a bacon flavor that was MUCH milder than that of cooked bacon. It was less salty and ‘softer’. Not sure this was gonna work for me, I went and got some Prosciutto and treated it the same way, hoping the salty cured pork would eclipse the bacon in flavor.

Sarah and I immediately found the Abita beer to be far too peculiar for this. It has an odd aftertaste that seems almost ‘off’; I didn’t want to drink it by itself, much less pair it with food. Thankfully, the Westmalle worked really nicely with the chestnut and celery. It was ‘polite’, complimentary without being too contrasty or too boring. I’m sure there’s likely to be a more awesome, “Alinea-worthy” beer out there that would work better, but for now I’m going to press on with the Westmalle.

Also, Sarah and I found both the bacon and the prosciutto to be almost invisible on the tongue when coupled with the rest of the ingredients. I need to cook the bacon; I’m not sure where this leaves me for presentation though. I’m loathe to just chuck a piece of bacon on there. I’d like to try making bacon jam, but I know I’d need a ton of bacon fat to do this. I tried burning the bacon powder with my brulee torch to get some more flavor in it, but the fine powder just turned to carbon and tasted burned.

I also played a little with how to present the celery. I wanted to try to make celery glass. I used the same technique as that of making pineapple glass, employing Pure Cote b790 for the film. The problem with Pure Cote is that it needs to be cooked to dissolve. COoking celery juice turns it dingy brown and causes it to take on a different flavor than that of fresh celery. It tastes like toasted celery seeds; kind of toasty and ‘brown’, not really sweet. The glass itself ended up working perfectly, but the taste just wasn’t really great for me.

I tried topping it with a bit of celery salt left over from my Cucumber aromatics dish a while back, but this just multiplied the toasty, undesirable flavor.

I really like the bright green juice from fresh celery; it tastes bright and beautifully sweet with the chestnut. I need to figure out how to use the Pure Cote without cooking the celery; I think what I might try is mixing pure cote with a small amount of water, boiling that, and then adding it to the cool celery juice. The alternative is to try to get my hands on some Pure Cote Instant, which doesn’t require the heating step. I’m not sure I can find this in small quantities yet though, and plus I’d like to see if I can make this work without it.