Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Through The Cooking-Glass #4: Rabo De Toro Y Espuma De Coliflor Con Trufa

This has been the longest period of non-posting since I started the blog back in August 2006. It's not that I don't still love you guys, or that I've lost interest in writing about my experiences. And it's certainly not a result of my falling out with the wonderful world of food. It's because I was knackered. Exhausted. Totally shagged out.

It wasn't the recent holiday that scuppered me - well, not directly. Taking a break to visit the Basque Country and Scotland was just fantastic and exactly what I needed after 100 consecutive shifts. What this is about is the escalator. When you first start working, there's not much of a ramp to reach your plateau of operation. But as I've developed and taken on more responsibility, that ramp has grown longer and steeper. At the top of it - and once in the zone - work is just fine. The problem is getting back to the top after a long and pleasurable slide down to the bottom.

I'm planning to write something about my experiences as a chef de partie next week. Meanwhile, here's a great plate of Michelin-starred comfort food. In the fourth of my series Through The Cooking-Glass, in which I give a close-up view of some of the dishes that we prepare here at Comerç 24, I turn the spotlight on a seemingly simple dish, but one that involves a lot of preparation and requires very precise execution to pull off. Rabo de toro con espuma de coliflor y trufa (oxtail with cauliflower foam & truffle) is the seventh and last savoury instalment of the Menú Festival, the smaller of our two tasting menus.

Rabo de toro con espuma de coliflor y trufa
The dish is prepared by my friend Michael on the Plancha section, although the hardest job is actually performed by our production kitchen. Since I have no direct involvement in the preparation of this dish, I won't for a moment pretend to know every little detail about the processes involved in its creation. I've seen every element of the dish being prepared many times, but that doesn't mean I know the dish like the back of my hand. Far from it. However I'll explain, to the best of my knowledge, how it gets from raw ingredients to paying customer.

The oxtail pieces are first tossed in a little seasoned flour and then browned in huge cast iron pans. Once caramelised, they are added to the beginnings of a basic brown stock along with all of the vegetables and aromatics you'd expect to find in such a stock - onions, carrots, celery, rosemary, bay leaves, thyme, tomato etc. The tails are then braised very gently for hours and hours until the meat falls off the bones like melting butter.

The oxtails are then left to cool in the braising liquor and then separated from all of the cooked vegetables. The stock is then reduced to a gravy, while the meat is stripped from the bones and shredded gently. Once the stock is sufficiently syrupy, the meat is added back into the reduced stock to coat it completely and the two are blended into one rich, meaty amalgamation. This mixture is then portioned into bags, vacuum sealed and stored away in the production kitchen's walk-in fridge, ready for Michael to take before each service.Oxtail pieces

The oxtail and stock may be delegated to the production kitchen, but the cauliflower foam is Michael's responsibility - and one that he takes with great pride. You may remember me writing about a green cauliflower espuma we made together at his place a while back, which we based on the recipe Mike uses at work. Well that was an adapted version, but this is the real deal. Making the cauliflower foam is very straightforward on paper, but it's not hard to cock it up. Because there's no official recipe for the purée, great care has to be taken to ensure a consistent result each time. It's all done by instinct, you see. Some things that we make in the kitchen can only be made by instinct - by constantly tasting, smelling and feeling until you know that it's right. This is one of those things.

Best cauliflowerThe cauliflowers are first cleaned of their leaves, then broken down into florets. These are then boiled softly in well salted water until a knife runs smoothly through the stalk. The florets are then strained and added to the Thermomix, in which they are blitzed while cream is gradually added until the necessary consistency is achieved. This mixture is then checked for seasoning before being passed through a fine chinois. Just like the oxtail mixture, the cauliflower is vacuum sealed in small bags and stored away in the fridge. But whereas the oxtail is kept in a pan over a bain marie for service, the cauliflower purée is loaded one bag to one siphon, charged with nitrous oxide and kept in a separate bain marie ready for each service.

The garnish for this dish is again a simple preparation, but one that makes an enormous difference to the final product. We use a very high quality Italian black truffle paste, which we blitz in the Thermomix together with sunflower oil to create a semi-emulsified sauce. This is kept in a squeezy bottle in one of the Plancha section's reach-in fridges.

So during service, the sixth dish - Arroz negro de sepia (black rice with beach cuttlefish) is followed by the Rabo de toro as the final hot dish before the postres (desserts).

This is how it works: When a Rabo de toro is called away during service, first the cartouche is removed the from the pan of oxtail. Some of the mixture is then spooned into a round bowl plate, just to one side, and followed with the hot cauliflower foam ejected straight from a siphon. The black truffle sauce is then spiralled over the foam and a little truffle oil is added to enhance the aroma.
Black truffle

So there you have it. A very simple dish really - just three elements. Oxtail, cauliflower and truffle. But don't be fooled by the dish's simplicity, for that would be a crying shame.

Rabo de toro en casa, sin trufaThis isn't a dish that was designed to shock the customer and take them to the very edge of their comfort zone. Quite the opposite in fact. This dish is comforting, warming, indulgent and sumptuous. You take a spoonful of the rich, meaty oxtail, scoop up some of the fluffy, cloud-like cauliflower foam with some of that intoxicatingly aromatic truffle and you've got heaven in a mouthful. It's essentially a relaxing, down to earth respite between some of the earlier, more radical, challenging dishes and the exciting, thought-provoking desserts to come.

Notice anything wrong with the dish photographed above? Look carefully and you'll see that there's no truffle swirl. Did the kitchen make a mistake? No - this one wasn't prepared at Comerç 24, but back at my apartment last night. The oxtail was from work and the cauliflower purée I made myself. But you didn't think my employers gave away free truffle to the staff, or that I was paid the kind of salary that would allow me to buy my own, did you?

With special thanks to Robin for the photo of oxtail pieces.


David Hall said...

Trig - a holiday in your profession?!

Hope life is good. Loving the oxtail with cauliflower, delicious!


ros said...

I'm glad to see you've got your energy back and are inspired to write again. That oxtail looks gorgeous- I can't even remember the last time I cooked oxtail- I can never find it anywhere!

The other day I bought Andy truffles- the chocolate kind, obviously. He said, "So these are the things they use pigs to find?" Bless.

alexthepink said...

Looks yummy Trig!

Trig said...

Yes - they do let me out on a piece of string every now and again, David. It's brilliant here - when I'm not knackered, I'm lovin' it.

Ros - Mike and I both laughed our heads off. Goon can't really be that... can he?

Alex - I appreciate the thought and it's lovely to see you here on my blog, but I am seriously thinking of imposing a "yummy" ban. Still, in the case of this dish you are right.

Christian said...

What a great blog. I'm kind of obsessed with eating out in London. I've been trying to write about it on my own blog. Check it out and let me know what you think! http://backwardscity.blogspot.com/

Pete said...

I have been waiting for a good recipe to use my whipper on so I'll definitely give the cauliflower espuma a go.

Jeena said...

Looks fabulous Aidan, oxtail and cauliflower sounds amazing. I wish we all could bring free truffles home from work now wouldn't that be great. :-)

lindy said...

Glad to see you back. And I love oxtail. In fact, I've found a wonderful local butcher I didn't know existed, and oxtail is the first thing I bought from him.
First I just braised them in red wine, and then I did kind of cold pate/aspic thing with my leftovers. Nothing so gorgeous as this, but very satisfying.

Tim said...

Good job! :)

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