Taking On The Fat Duck
The Fat Duck Cookbook by Heston Blumenthal is the first cookbook I have ever read like a book instead of as a reference, skimming for recipes. It is a highly engaging, thoughtful, funny and educational work that sets the bar high for future cookbooks. It’s an incredible resource, and I’m sure the large volume is something else entirely.
After reading Part I: History, I was excited to enter into the meat of the volume, Part II: Recipes. I looked to see what could be accomplished in a relatively short period of time, a recipe that didn’t have 58 separate preparations to be made over the course of a week before putting it all together. I settled on Red Cabbage Gazpacho, Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream. It had only four components, and the only ‘advanced’ portion was the use of a chamber vacuum sealer. Since I have one, I need to consistently justify its expense, so this was perfect.
I got my shopping list in order, and collected all of the ingredients necessary. As this was my first Fat Duck dish, I decided not to cut corners, and got the best I could find. For example, the eggs and milk were local from the Pike Place Creamery, and the cucumbers from the Columbia City Farmer’s Market. Gathered all together, it seemed like a manageable task. “I can do this,” I thought to myself. And so I began my journey into the heart of The Fat Duck.
The Cast Of Characters
Step One: Pommery Mustard Ice Cream
I began, as can happen so often, with a variation on the dish. I searched high and low for Pommery grain mustard, but to no avail. I did find two other types of Pommery mustard, so I had to decide. Should I go with a Dijon grain mustard or a grainless Pommery? I had never had Pommery mustard before, and the recipe calls for Dijon for the mayonnaise. I figured I should go for the more authentic flavor profile the recipe asks for than the texture profile. I went grainless.
The recipe was straight forward except perhaps for the exacting temperature readings. Instead of simmering but not boiling, it is supposed to start at 140F and go up to 160F. Wanting to follow the recipe to the letter, I obliged:
Otherwise it was what one would expect, except you’re putting in mustard instead of chocolate or the like. After a go in the ice cream maker, I had the first component made.
My Very First Ice Cream
A funny thing: this was the first ice cream I’ve ever made. If you know me, it completely makes sense that it would be savory instead of sweet. Of course it is.
Step Two: red wine Mayonnaise
This component calls for 30g of red wine. Since it was a riff on a Spanish dish, I figured a Spanish wine was appropriate, so I chose a bottle of Muga Rioja. Not only is this a fantastic wine but it also gave me something to drink while cooking, which seems just so perfectly breezy and debonair.
It too came together quite nicely, and ended up having a wonderful extra benefit: leftovers. Adding it the following week to tuna made a quick sandwich an elevated experience.
Step three: Red Cabbage Gazpacho
Purple In, Purple Out
The next component up was the gazpacho itself. Red cabbage is such an inspired choice. The color and intense flavor of the cabbage is a real attention getter. The next step was inspired as well. In a traditional gazpacho recipe, week old bread is added to the vegetables and mushed together in a mortar. Here, he apparently wanted to have a bread flavor, but not the texture. So the recipe calls for having two pieces of bread soak in the cabbage juice for two hours, then have it strained.
Finally, I added in the mayonnaise with some red wine vinegar and salt. My first gazpacho was made, and it was a brilliant fuchsia.
Gazpacho, Blumenthal style
Step Four: Cucumber brunoise
I saved this for last because this was going to be simple. I mean, there’s only one ingredient: cucumbers. I was terribly mistaken.
First, the cucumber needed to be sliced with a mandolin. I had gone earlier into a Ross “Dress for Less” store to grab one. Yes, this too was my first time using a mandolin. I have made coffee caviar and perfect sous vide eggs, but never had needed to slice anything thinly and uniformly. I know, backwards. That’s how I do it.
The next part was appliance justification, or, more appropriately, vacuum sealing. He writes that:
As air is removed and the sous-vide bag constricts, the cucumber compresses, breaking the cell walls in an even, controlled fashion and allowing the juice they contain to combine. Repeating the processes condenses and concentrates further. When the cucumber is removed from the bag it retains its structure but has a denser texture, a fuller flavour and – because of the removal of the air – a more intense jade-green colour.
I thought it was interesting that he requires the vacuum process twice. Once I did it though, it became clear. Literally.
Ah, now I’m seeing where this is going! All I have to do now is cut it up:
Remove the cucumber from the bag, then trim off and discard the skin and seeds.
This proved to almost be my undoing. From such a simple instruction was launched a time intensive display of tedious, repetitive, meticulous surgery. Slice after slice of paper thin cucumber went under my knife. My dinner guests were arriving shortly, and I had other things I needed to attend to. I hadn’t prepared for such drudgery. It was an important lesson in not only reading a recipe but visualizing the steps in order to make sure you know what you’re getting into.
I've Had More Fun Than This
But the result was worth it. Little jade chips of cucumber. They were so cool. Genius, really.
The completed dish
My First Blumenthal
With all the components created, all that was needed was to put it together. Here I strayed from the recipe. It calls for 2g of cucumbers to be plated. At this point, this was course three of five for the dinner and I was just trying to get it out on the table, so I put what looked right to me. I plunked down some cucumber, a rocher of ice cream (yes, you guessed it – my first attempt at making quenelles), and poured the gazpacho in.
It was a delicious, if complex, interplay of flavors. The sharpness of the red cabbage came at you first, and up to a point where it could be too much, but then the mayonnaise came in to soften the blow, with bright notes underneath from the cucumber. The creaminess of the mustard ice cream had a fantastic texture counterpoint with the crunchiness of the cucumber brunoise. I think if there was grain in the mustard, that would have been another texture that really would enhance the dish. Regardless, it was a complete success.
Which it all that matters, of course. Except I was surfing the Internet a couple of weeks later and came across an actual photo of the dish:
The Real Thing at The Fat Duck (photo credit: dbriones)
I certainly got my portions wrong, but the color is what intrigues me the most. I had that color before I added the mayonnaise. But once I did (with exact measurements per the recipe, of course), the color changed. Somehow his has not. Perhaps the mayonnaise sits underneath the ice cream? Contact me if you happen to know. Otherwise, I suppose I’ll have to fly out to Bray myself and find out.
But I can’t beat myself up too much. Less than nine months prior, I was ordering take out teriyaki to feed myself. Now I was serving a dish from one of the best restaurants in the world to my friends that I made in my little kitchen. I thought I could do it, and I did. Now I have my eye on the Salmon Poached in a Liquorice Gel. Why not?
But first, I have some cleaning up to do.
Update 9/22/10: Since posting this, I did a little Google image search on “red cabbage gazpacho fat duck” and found several pictures from The Fat Duck where the color of the gazpacho matches my own. Seems the color is more an issue of lighting and camera ability than the dish itself. Nice to see they didn’t water down the cookbook and keep the secret all to themselves!
Update 9/27/10: I wrote The Fat Duck to see if they had any insights, and sure enough, they did reply:
Thank you for your internet enquiry and for sending us the picture of your red cabbage gazpacho. I have discussed it with the chefs here at the Fat Duck and they offer the following possible explanations:
1. There was less mayonnaise used in the dish in the Fat Duck picture – it is correct to mix the mayonnaise with the red cabbage but it would appear that the photograph is a particularly dark colour. It is usually somewhere in between this dark version and your fuchsia version. Less mayonnaise would make it a little darker but no less pink which makes me think that suggestion no 2 could be the problem?
2. Too much of the white of the cabbage has been juiced with the leaves – at the Fat Duck, they are extremely vigilant and obsessive when it comes to cutting out all the white parts of the cabbage (it is easy to expect this level of attention to detail when you have 36 chefs!). It is wasteful but it guarantees a glorious purple colour rather than a pinker colour. Might this have been the problem?
3. Or it could just be your particular cabbage! According to the chefs, the colour of the soup does vary from time to time. It could be due to the season or the size of the cabbage or simply how fresh it is – no one is quite sure.
I do hope you try again and get better, more purple results. Personally, I think it tastes good whatever the colour!
I commend them for taking the time to write a home cook across the ocean to help out with minor details such as the color. Although I did core the cabbage, I didn’t carefully strip out all the white, so that along with the amount of mayonnaise most likely was the culprit. I am now prepared for the next time I give it a go!