As usual, my keyboard is running several days back of my knife and fork, but at least you know where my priorities lie: Worry first about the cooking and the eating. Having spent two months watching the Giants’ thrillingly improbable championship run like a little boy in the bleachers – all black and orange dervish, mitt held high for the fly ball that might – I can now say that Bruce Bochy would back me on this: Pitch and make plays first, worry about talking after you win the game. So, a week and change after the fact, here’s what I served when the Giants brought home the Commissioner’s Trophy on Halloween, a plate of black and orange food that didn’t require an above-ground nuclear weapon test in order to occur in nature, and still tasted good.
The challenge, for me, lay in the colors themselves, because neither black nor orange (excepting the mysterious lifeforms evolving in my wife’s Tupperware laboratory at the back of the fridge) appear with much frequency in my kitchen, and Halloween colors, as cute as they may be for decorative baking and jelly beans, just didn’t strike me as being obviously affiliated with the list of things I want to put in my mouth. Luckily, I live with several strange and wonderful kids who simply love fish eggs – they really go for the briny pop of day-glo-orange, sushi-bar ikura – and so off I went, with caviar in mind (that it would provide a good dance partner for champagne didn’t exactly detract). Still, while I’ve got nothing against snarfing down a plate of black and orange fish eggs, the strictly-caviar approach seemed somehow too easy, too dependent on expensive ingredients, and ultimately lacking real food-think. Moreover, while I don’t mind ikura as a garnish – I often use them with smoked salmon, as I did for my wife’s most recent Hot Mamas Night – I’m not a big fan of the stuff by the mouthful; maybe my palate has been too Westernized for too long, or maybe I just spent too many summers learning how to thread identical-looking little red balls of nastiness onto fish hooks with my grandfather, leaving me with Coast Guard orange-stained fingertips and the unmistakable smell of warm bait…
Anyway, to cut to the chase, I bought some inexpensive lumpfish caviar (definitively not my favorite – too crunchy, no richness to balance its saline tang, but at less than $10 for a 1oz jar, inky black in color, and easy to secure at the local market…), and started thinking about orange foods other than salmon roe. Carrots seemed an obvious choice in isolation but less convincing in combination, so I did a little digging and unearthed Heston Blumenthal’s description of how he came to serve scallops with caviar and white chocolate at the Fat Duck, which then led me to the food pairing website that he inspired. Happily, I discovered that white chocolate – technically, not ‘chocolate’ at all, which is partly why it works – not only does great things for certain seafoods (lobster, scallops, cod, bottarga…), but also mates enthusiastically with the flavor of raw carrots. As Mr Blumenthal points out, molecular bases for food pairings are not wholly to be trusted, but the idea of carrots and white chocolate, with its echo of Thanksgiving yams baked under a blanket of toasted marshmallow, seemed solid enough to run with, and became the unifying thread for the dish.
Caviar with White Chocolate and Carrot Puree (4-8 servings)
- Ingredients: 1oz jar of black or nearly-black caviar, a small block of white chocolate (check the ingredients – it should be made from real cocoa butter and flavored with real vanilla), and a small bunch of really fresh, really sweet carrots. [Note: You could turn this upside down by using ikura for the caviar, and white carrots for the puree.] Keep the chocolate and caviar in the fridge.
- Roughly chop the carrots and gently simmer until soft in chicken stock, 10-15 minutes (you could use water, it just taste better with stock). Reserve the stock and briefly shock the carrots.
- Puree the carrots in a food processor, adding stock as needed to achieve the desired consistency. Season with salt, white pepper and, when finished, blend in a small knob of room-temperature butter.
- Use a truffle-shaver or microplane to shave the chocolate into thin flakes.
- Plate by coating the bottom of a shallow bowl with the puree, carefully spoon a portion of caviar into the middle. Garnish the puree with the chocolate shavings.
- Serve with a rich champagne and toast the World Series Champion SF Giants!