Sunday, 15 July 2007

Sauces For Courses

Just got back from Tarragona late last night. I'll tell you something about my visit in a few days when I've got my thoughts (and photos) together. Meanwhile...

If I told you that I made a sauce the other week that I served with a fillet of beef for dinner... and then served afterwards with a meringue and ice cream dessert, would you believe me?

The more scientifically-minded gastronomes amongst you will spot two essential problems (quite apart, that is, from the difficulty of getting your lunch guests to put aside their inbuilt prejudices and wrap their heads around such a prospect). The first challenge is that the beef wants a strong umami element to its flavouring, whereas this is the last thing you'd want in the dessert course. Mind you, I'm being very conservative here, as undoubtedly both Ferran and Heston would be more than happy to go the whole hog (or should that be the whole roast hog ice cream?) The second challenge is developing a sauce that won't drown out the delicate flavour of beef fillet, but will give body and intensity of flavour to an otherwise relatively insipid sweet dish.

Now a sauce with such magical properties doesn't exactly grow on trees. Actually, it grows on bushes. What we're talking about here are summer berries. Raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, blueberries, blackberries and the other fruit delights of shrubs and brambles.

The funny thing is, the summer fruits in question were never actually intended to mingle with this or any other piece of fillet.

Allow me to explain.
Just look at the fantastic light marbling in this tournado

As part of our 3rd-year Development rotation at college, we are given the opportunity to create and implement our own à la carte and tasting menus. As most frequent restaurant-goers will know, the concept of a tasting menu is based around showcasing one's cuisine by taking elements of existing dishes with the intent of creating new combinations. And because a tasting menu offers many courses and therefore provides much smaller individual portions, here arises the opportunity to be far more adventurous and thought-provoking with such dishes.

Flambéeing brings out the exhibitionist in me
I found myself musing on a plethora of stimulating combinatory ideas. But for reasons incomprehensible to me, most of my fellow students didn't seem to understand the concept of adventure and creativity and, as always in such situations, compromise beckoned.

Sadly, the tournedo of beef was destined to be joined by wild mushrooms, pommes Anna, watercress leaves and a jus on its way to the inevitable doom of its digestion in the college restaurant.

Now I won't for a minute hesitate to explain what I found absurd about this communal thought process. What my fellow students had voted for - with me in a very small minority opposition camp - was a bog-standard, no frills, meat, spuds, two veg and gravy dish... for a tasting menu?!?! Now I have difficulty wrapping my head around this idea because I don't see how making a slightly smaller version of a main course constitutes a dish fit for a tasting menu. Showcasing one's cuisine? Showcasing one's ability to miniaturise, more like it. We might as well have been making dolls houses. Fortunately for me, we didn't sell all of the beef tournedos that day (I can't imagine why) and as I was running the meat section, I was kindly offered the two remaining steaks to take home. And so I did.

The other dish I had on that day was an affair of rabbit in three ways, consisting of stuffed, steamed and pan-fried loin, braised shoulder and (not forgetting everyone's favourite) confit leg. With this dish went a delicate little steamed summer pudding - a rosemary and lemon thyme-infused berry compote, which I spooned into ramekins lined with fingers of bread soaked in the excess berry juices. I reduced down the remaining berry juices with red wine and, once syrupy, blitzed in a little of the thick compote to create a rich, velvety summer berry sauce.
Hubble, bubble, summer fruit is no trouble

So what's this got to do with anything, I hear you ask? Well, if you've been paying attention you'll know by now that this was the sauce I brought home to pair with beef tournedos for my own tasting menu.

The sauce of the first course...
So here's my sauce, a perfect complement to a rare tournedo of beef, as shown in the picture on the left. And the entrée was followed by meringue with chocolate chip ice cream (well, a mashed up choc-ice, if I'm going to be unnecessarily honest), with lashings of warm summer berry sauce flowing down like lava from the mouth of an erupting volcano as pictured below.

Not the most elegant of presentations, but then it was just my home dinner after a frustrating day at the office, after all.

Don't you think it's strange that the sauce tasted great with both dishes, one after the other? I sure do.

But the thing to understand with an exercise like this is that you're eating just as much with your brain as you are your taste buds. First you experience the meaty Maillard flavours of the beef, complemented perfectly by the tartness of the berry sauce. Then, when you eat the dessert with the sauce, your brain becomes confused as it frantically searches for a non-existent Maillard characteristic in the meringue and ice cream. Confused? You may well be. But never mind - this was a dining experience of great fun. Trust me, I'm a chef. also the sauce of the second course

I guess the moral of the story is this: If you're willing to challenge the judgment of others and, more importantly, to challenge your own judgment, you might just learn a thing or two. Some people are just more open to that suggestion than others. I guess the old saying is true: it's horses for courses. Or, in this case, it's sauces for courses.


Phil said...

I dined n a rib-eye steak on Saturday night, followed by summer berry cheesecake. It was a great complementary dessert!

Trig said...

So now go the next step, Phil, and break down the barriers between entrée and dessert. Make a berry sauce for your rib-eye steak next time!

ros said...

I'm always a bit bewildered when people refuse to try combinations like this. I'm sure I've done a similar mixed berry sauce for s msin course before. Admittedly it was for venison (or maybe it was kangaroo) but I can imagine the delicate flavour of beef fillet working too. I'm not sure I'd try it on a stronger cut like rump though. What do you think?

Anyhow, I'm glad you're promoting these ideas. Maybe if we all keep posting recipes like this there'll be a less of the 'no fruit with meat' fad I keep encountering.

Trig said...

You can have a job as my personal motivator, Ros. There are many times when I think it's just me and you out there.

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