Wednesday, September 16, 2015

I’m back in Kyoto for a few months, and figure I ought to get this blog rolling again. Here’s a little amuse-bouche. 

I semi-invented a little dish this evening, and I want to share it with you because it was delicious. IMG_5400
What I can get in the average market is a little different from what you can get. I started by watching my hero, Jacques Pépin, making some dishes, and I thought I’d do something similar. But then, going to my market, I found I could get things and not get things that confused everything. That’s not the best sentence, but there you go. Anyway, I worked it out, and made a great dish.

My initial idea was some kind of stuffed clams, oysters, sea snails, or scallops. I could have gotten the freshest, most wonderful versions of these things by walking 6-7 blocks to Nishiki Market, but I didn’t feel like walking—or paying what it’d cost. What I found is that at my local market, you can get very small live clams and just-barely-boiled scallops for cheap, but I was afraid that the total quantity wouldn’t be sufficient. So I picked up one little bag of clams, a package of scallops, and a little tray of fluke (hirame) fillets, bone-in with skin.

At home, I removed all the frills and mantles from the scallops, which is something I’ve never seen in a US market but is normal here. They’re tasty but tough, so I used them in the mousse. I opened the clams by dumping them in a very hot pan and adding a bunch of cheap white wine, garlic, pepper, and scallions; you don’t add salt with things like this because the shellfish tend to be very salty already. The fluke I skinned and boned, then dropped the skin and bones into the clam pan with some random vegetables from my fridge: a bit of tomato, negi scallion, carrot, and whatnot. Adding a lot of white wine and some water, I produced a basic court bouillon, and simmered it for a few minutes. 

Next, I minced the fluke as fine as possible, then worked it in a suribachi mortar until fairly smooth. The mantles, frills, eggs, and whatnot of the scallops went in next, followed by the clams. I added some minced garlic and scallion, and kept grinding it in the suribachi until passably smooth—it would never have passed for quenelles Escoffier, but it wasn’t coarse, either. To bind it, I added an egg white, and then I worked in about half a cup of rich milk, a little bit at a time. I stirred in the whole scallop meats, divided the mixture, and placed it on four sheets of heavy plastic wrap. These I twisted up as tight as possible and poached, just in the plastic, in the court bouillon for 10 minutes at a gentle simmer. This firmed up the mixture pretty well, and I put the little packages on a small plate and refrigerated for half an hour to firm more.

At that point, I strained the cool court bouillon and gently lowered the semi-quenelles into it. Next, I took some garlic, scallion, white wine, pepper, and salt, and worked it together in the suribachi until well mixed. I added about 4 Tb butter, at room temperature, and worked it into a buttery paste, adding a bit of white wine once it was going well. I refrigerated this briefly, then let it sit. This is snail butter, which can be made many ways, but is I think the principal reason anyone eats snails: they’re a pain to deal with, they don’t taste like much, so why bother? Snail butter is why.

At dinner time, I brought the quenelle pan to a gentle simmer for a few minutes to heat through, then removed the quenelles to a little heat-safe tray. As soon as I could touch them comfortably, I pressed a big pile of the butter mixture on top of each quenelle to cover the top. The tray then went into the little fish broiler under the stove for about 3-4 minutes, at maximum heat, until the top was bubbly and brown, and a nice sauce had formed in the bottom.

To serve, I made a simple bed of Boston lettuce, tossed with salt, pepper, lots of olive oil, and a very rich, high-end, raw egg yolk. The quenelle was placed on top of this, and the extra butter sauce (made automatically and found on the bottom of the tray) I poured on top. Then I sprinkled on a bit of fleur de sel, or actually, Icelandic crunchy salt—something my mother sent me after her recent vacation. Serve with lots of crusty bread, because you’re not going to want to let any of those juices go to waste.

Result: I don’t know how to label this dish, because it’s not exactly anything I’ve ever seen in French recipes, yet it is utterly French in flavor. I was getting a hair tired of classical Japanese cuisine, and there was one taste of mousse, salt, butter, wine, and herbs that almost made me cry. My daughter Maia (who’s 7) was OK with the quenelles, but she picked out the whole scallops to eat, then mopped up the sauce with bread until we had to ask if she wanted to eat the paint as well. (Answer: if it tastes like Daddy’s sauce, yes!) At home, I’d puree the fish, scallop mantles, and clams in a food processor, then add the egg whites and cream or milk until totally emulsified. I think that would work perfectly, and if it didn’t want to tighten despite all, I’d add a pinch of salt to finish. I’d serve it over a more aggressive lettuce, like Romaine. My version was coarser, but delicious. I’m especially pleased because I made this dish, not from any recipe, but from my head, knowing what the ingredients might do and what would taste well with what.

Admittedly, who can go wrong with snail butter?

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