One of the questions that comes up time and again for all chefs is some variation on “where do you get your inspirations from?” I’m sure the same question gets asked of anyone involved in any creative sort of endeavor. Some of it is simple curiosity, and some of it is, no doubt, a sort of, “how can I learn to do what you do?” I’m not sure I can at all answer the latter, there are folk out there who have studied the field of creativity and they probably don’t have a hard and fast reply either. But, I’ve approached this topic before, and so, why not again, with a single dish as an illustration?
As long time readers know, I often get inspirations from dishes I’ve eaten elsewhere, particularly when we go on vacation and I explore new things that I’ve not seen. This year, with multiple locations visited, and coming back to a particularly slow end of winter season, I’m taking it slow and one location at a time.
So let’s start with the dishes that inspired this one. They were two, both in Santiago, at, respectively, Ambrosia and Boragó.
The first was a dish of perfectly cooked locos, the Chilean “false abalone”, served up simply with a parsley pesto, pickled onion petals, herbs and flowers, and a light vinaigrette. The second, a small block of dry aged jibia, the Humboldt squid, but from the body, not the tentacles, steam cooked, topped with lightly charred tangerine peel and kelp, and served with a creamy mushroom puree (from psilocybin mushrooms). Both stood out as the best things served during my two meals that day.
So what did I have to work with that inspired me – sort of my mystery basket of ingredients – squid, parsley, mushroom, tangerine. Hmmm… I can already see more refinements down the line reading back the above paragraph, with the onion and kelp coming into play somewhere.
Stab #1 – slow cooked jibia tentacle, poached in olive oil with garlic, cumin seeds, and salt. Rewarmed in its oil. Served over a puree of button mushrooms that had been poached in milk, then blended with yogurt, tangerine juice, salt, and a touch of merquén, the smoky chili from Chile. Toasted pistachios, parsley leaves, and crushed dehydrated tangerine peel. It was good, and a pretty presentation (particularly the tentacles that formed themselves into nice shapes like this one), but didn’t excite me, and let’s face it, mushroom purees always look a little dodgy.
Stab #2 – I decided to go with the jibia body, and give a shot at a different cooking technique, sous vide. I put blocks of the flesh into vacuum bags with the same olive oil, garlic, cumin, and salt, and after a fair amount of online research, settled on two hours at 59°C. The texture was beautiful coming out of the water bath. I cooled it down as recommended. Then to serve, I coated the meat in togaroshi, the Japanese seven spice powder that’s used for tataki, and quickly seared it on all sides and then sliced it. Accompanying it, a puree of parsley and pistachios in neutral oil, and a salad of thin sliced mushrooms marinated for a couple of hours in olive oil, tangerine juice, parsley, salt and pepper. The same garnishes completed the dish. The problem was, somewhere in either the cooling down process or the searing process, some of the pieces of the jibia sort of seized up, and so we had, it turned out, some tender pieces and some that verged on a sort of squeaky rubber band quality – not what I was looking for. It was also the first time I’ve worked with the meat of the body rather than the tentacles, and it clearly needs a different treatment.
Stab #3 – First off, back to tentacles and olive oil poaching, a) because I know it works, and b) because I like the way the flavor and texture comes out. Added in coriander seeds and black peppercorns to the poaching oil to add some more complexity to the flavor. The same parsley puree. The mushrooms, I felt, had gotten a little lost, and felt proportionately wrong on the previous dish, so here, I just quartered them. Same garnishes. One big difference here is taking the chili out of the equation – I felt like both the merquén and the togaroshi took away from the more subtle flavors of the other ingredients. Flavor-wise – this was pretty much dead on what I was looking for. Presentation… pretty, but still needs some tuning.
Stay tuned for stab #4… coming somewhere down the line, and maybe bringing in something with the onions and seaweed; maybe the meat of the jibia body cooked this way in olive oil and spices. All ideas are fair game!