Monday, February 18, 2008

And what about some Smoked Bacon and Egg Ice Cream, Pain Perdu, and Tea Jelly ?

A burst of flavour

Boil it, fry it, braise it or roast it: you don't have to be a rocket scientist to recognize that how you prepare and cook any ingredient will affect just how much of its integral taste will remain in the finished dish

Heston Blumenthal
Saturday June 1, 2002


Flavour encapsulation sounds like something in a sci-fi film, but it is, in fact, a vital element in both food manufacturing and my cooking. So what is it? The best way to explain it is with what I call my coffee bean theory. Make a cup of coffee with one ground coffee bean - it will taste horribly insipid. Now take the cup and fill it with hot water; just before you drink it, pop a coffee bean into your mouth, crunch it and then drink the water. This time, the coffee flavour will be far stronger and last in the mouth a lot longer. The experiment shows that a coffee bean delivers a far greater flavour eaten whole than when ground up in a cup of hot water. Effectively, the flavour is encapsulated in the whole bean but dispersed in the water.

This approach is used extensively in food manufacturing, in many cases probably unintentionally. Think about a bar of milk chocolate with nuts and raisins in it - their flavour is invariably encapsulated within the bar. If the nuts and raisins were puréed and mixed into the chocolate, they would not provide anywhere near the same flavour.

The same applies to marmalade - it wasn't so long ago that it was marketed as containing "real" orange pieces, as perfect an example of flavour encapsulation as you could wish for. I apply the approach extensively in the restaurant because it's an essential tool in the crusade against palate fatigue. (I'll talk more about palate fatigue in future articles, but in essence it's when you become bored with what you eat.)

Recipes serve four.

Bacon and egg ice cream

This forms part of a dessert served at the restaurant. It's a twist on breakfast: caramelized brioche in place of toast, tomato and red pepper compote for jam, chewy salted butter caramel with wild mushrooms, and this ice cream, all washed down with a small cup of jellied Earl Grey. The idea stemmed from thinking about why some ice cream tastes of egg. I came to the conclusion that it's because the custard is overcooked. When you cook custard, the heat makes the proteins in the egg coagulate, which thickens the mix. If you continue cooking the custard, it will scramble, with the proteins completely clumped together. Egg yolk sets at 72C. So, by cooking the custard to 82C or more, as advised in many traditional recipes, the proteins begin to coagulate. Although the custard may still look liquid, tiny clumps of protein will have formed. And so, according to the coffee bean theory, the custard will be full of little bursts of egg flavour.

All of which got me thinking about how to exploit this eggy flavour, and so this recipe was born. The other parts of the dessert (bar the caramel/mushroom dish) follow, because the ice cream needs them to deliver the full impact of the breakfast dessert. And yes, you do need this many egg yolks; use the whites to make the chocolate fondant from the March 9 issue. These quantities make around one liter.

300g sliced streaky smoked bacon
1 litre full fat milk
25g skimmed milk powder
24 egg yolks
50g liquid glucose
175g unrefined caster sugar

Roast the bacon in an oven at 180C until slightly browned. Place in cold milk and leave to marinate overnight. Tip the milk and bacon into a casserole, and add the milk powder. Put the egg yolks, glucose and sugar in a mixing bowl and, using an electric whisk, mix at high speed until white and increased in volume.

Heat the milk and bacon mix to simmering and, with the whisk still going, pour a little on to the yolks. Tip this back into the milk pan, and cook over a lowish heat until it hits 85C. Hold at this temperature for 30 seconds, then remove from the heat. Cool the mixture down by stirring it over ice, tip into a blender and liquidize until smooth. Pass through a sieve and churn.

Caramelised brioche

The breakfast toast in the dessert, but also delicious served with caramelized apples, bananas or chocolate sauce.

1 dssp unrefined caster sugar (plus 20g or so extra for dusting)
250ml whole milk
2 soupspoons white rum (optional)
3 eggs
75g unsalted butter
1 loaf brioche

Mix 1 dssp sugar, milk, rum and eggs in a bowl. Clarify the butter, heating it gently in a pan or microwave. When melted, leave to stand for 10 minutes. Carefully scrape off the white skin that forms on the surface and discard it. Pour the clarified butter through a fine sieve or tea strainer.

Heat the butter in a frying pan. Dip the brioche in the milk/sugar mix for a minute or so, then place in the hot pan. Cook, turning regularly, until lightly colored. Sprinkle with the extra sugar and caramelize lightly before serving.

Tomato and red pepper 'jam'

5 ripe tomatoes
1 red pepper
50g icing sugar
Splash of Worcestershire sauce
Splash of white-wine vinegar
10ml olive oil
2 coffee beans

Blanch, peel, deseed and dice the tomatoes. Peel, deseed and dice the pepper. Put everything in a pan and marinate for 24 hours. Cook very slowly on a low heat, until dry and jam-like.

Tea jelly

Of course, you do not need to use all of these different teas - amend as you wish.

250ml water
45g unrefined caster sugar
1 green tea bag
1 lemon verbena tea bag
2 Earl Grey tea bags
10-15ml lemon juice
2 gelatin leaves
5g citric acid (optional)

Bring the water and sugar to the boil, and remove from the heat. Add the tea bags, stir gently and leave to infuse for five minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and add the lemon juice. Meanwhile, soften the gelatin in cold water. When soft, gently squeeze out the water and add the gelatin to the warm tea (along with the citric acid, if using). Stir until the gelatin has dissolved, then pour into cups and refrigerate until set. © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

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